The French film industry continues to churn out a range of quality films every year and In the House is yet another interesting addition to their cinematic canon. Starring Fabrice Luchini, In the House is essentially the story of a disheartened teacher who develops an unusual friendship with one of his students. An experienced literature teacher at odds with the ‘modern’ approach to education being adopted by the school in which he works – such as the use of the term ‘learner’ instead of student – Germain (Luchini) is frustrated to the point of exasperation by the poor quality of work from the students in his class.
Claude Garcia (Ernst Umbauer) is a student in Germain’s class who, looking for inspiration for his writing assignments, uses classmate Rapha (Bastien Urghetto) and his family as the source of his story. Claude scores a gig as Rapha’s maths tutor and uses his access to the family as an opportunity to chronicle the goings-on within Rapha’s seemingly humdrum middle class suburban household. However, Claude becomes fixated on this family – which is a far cry from his own life with his disabled father – and, rather than simply documenting what he sees, he begins to take an active role in manipulating how the real-life narrative will play out.
Whilst impressed with the quality of Claude’s writing, Germain is initially concerned about the potential fallout for both of them but ultimately encourages his protégé to continue. When it seems as though Claude may no longer be able to continue with his writing, Germain is lured into a serious error in judgement that ultimately has severe consequences for his career and his marriage to art gallery manager Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). The film develops into a taut psychological thriller as Germain, Jeanne and Rapha’s family find themselves at the mercy of Claude’s manipulations.
This is a movie heavy on dialogue and lacking in action, not surprising given that is adapted from the play The Boy in the Back Row, by Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga. Directed by Francois Ozon, whose best known works are probably Swimming Pool and 2010’s Potiche, In the House draws on magic realism to blur the lines between reality and fiction. There are elements of comedy mixed with moments of great suspense as Claude sends all around him into a downward spiral.
The performances are all great with Luchini instilling Germain with an arrogance that does not waiver even when he faces losing everything. Kristin Scott Thomas is as reliable as ever as Jeanne, the long suffering wife whose concerns about her own future are ignored by the self-absorbed Germain. Umbauer is equal parts charm and creepiness as Claude, with Emmanuelle Seigner and Denis Menoch (who featured in the fantastic opening scene of Inglourious Basterds) also featuring as Rapha’s parents.
It was pleasing to see a very sizeable audience at the screening I attended because films of this quality need to be seen. It is not a masterpiece by any means, but it offers an intelligent narrative that is thought-provoking, humorous and, for the most part, utterly engaging.