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Review: Budding and Seasoned Voyeurs Collaborate with Mixed Results in Francois Ozon's 'In the House'

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood April 19, 2013 at 1:19PM

Francois Ozon's psychological mystery “In the House,” which is adapted from the play by Juan Mayorga, works as an interesting companion piece to Ozon’s 2003 film “Swimming Pool.” Both center on a middle-aged literary curmudgeon who develops a fantastic fixation on a young, enticing and distinctly threatening protégée, while blurring the lines between reality and lurid imagination. What events actually happen, and what events get cooked up along the way by a smart, jaded mind all too willing to introduce a little excitement to the story?
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Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas in "In the House"
Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas in "In the House"

Francois Ozon's psychological mystery “In the House,” which is adapted from the play by Juan Mayorga, works as an interesting companion piece to Ozon’s 2003 film “Swimming Pool.” Both center on a middle-aged literary curmudgeon who develops a fantastic fixation on a young, enticing and distinctly threatening protégée, while blurring the lines between reality and lurid imagination. What events actually happen, and what events get cooked up along the way by a smart, jaded mind all too willing to introduce a little excitement to the story?

In “Swimming Pool,” the better of the two films, Charlotte Rampling seemingly invents a lethal babe (Ludivine Sagnier) with whom to spend her summer holiday in the French countryside. The strength of that film is that what happens “in the house” -- a rustic mini-chateau drenched in sunlight -- is absorbingly suspenseful, and occupied by characters both sumptuously extraordinary yet intriguingly real (whether they’re in fact real or not).

Meanwhile, “In the House” suffers because what takes place inside the title maison is a thin, satirical cardboard cut-out of a real drama.

In the House
High school lit professor Germain (Fabrice Luchini), an owl-eyed, unsmiling grump, receives an alarmingly biting if well-written student essay near the beginning of the semester. The writer is Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), an angelic-looking imp from the other side of the tracks who has made an after-school habit of going home with his bourgeois friend Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) and observing how the other half lives. In the essay, Claude details with cynicism Rapha’s large house, his bored mother (Emmanuelle Seigner), who “has the distinct smell of a middle-class woman,” and his basketball-loving father, who deals in cheap Chinese labor.

This first writing assignment, ending abruptly with “To Be Continued,” turns into another essay and then another, which Claude hands over to the perplexed Germain, who is both taken aback by Claude’s hurtful observations and enticed by the prospect of a student who can actually write. As is Germain’s wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), who willingly digs into Claude’s essays with her husband while maintaining a circumspect distance from them. Perhaps because Germain feels defeated by his own lackluster writing career, he forms an obsession with Claude that is at once vicarious, paternal, instructional and vaguely sexual.

This article is related to: Reviews, François Ozon, Fabrice Luchini, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, In the House, Cohen Media Group


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.