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

Thompson on Hollywood 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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"In the House"
"In the House"

Narrated by Claude, the scenes inside Rapha's house -- which take up a good half of the film -- feel slight. This is actually a broader version of a critique Germain jabs at Claude numerous times throughout their increasingly heated writing sessions: Rapha is an underdeveloped character. The point of Germain saying this is partly to steer Claude away from his obvious overriding narrative (and libidinal) interest in Rapha’s blonde, sleepy-eyed mother, and to focus instead on his friend. To the childless Germain, the son of the family holds a particular significance.

Maybe the lack of fascinating fodder inside Rapha’s home is due to Claude’s amateur writing abilities; or maybe it’s due to Ozon missing the mark, getting wrapped up in an overly clever yet somehow flat portrait of middle-class malaise. The scenes between Luchini and Umhauer comprise the far superior half of the film, as do those between Luchini and the underused but top-form Scott Thomas.

Indeed, it’s the marriage between Germain and Jeanne that deserves a week-by-week chronicling, and might have provided a better focus for Claude’s pen-and-paper oeuvre. Jeanne, always sporting a different pair of appropriately funky red eye-glasses, is struggling to keep her gallery afloat, and adorning it with artwork of woefully derivative shock value and, well, cock value. (Case in point: One exhibition boasts photographs of penises in the shape of a swastika, and tits in the shape of a Star of David.) Germain clearly has little interest in what she does for a living and, as his obsession with Claude escalates, little interest in what he and his wife do in the bedroom.

As Germain’s voyeuristic tendencies increase, his attention to the woman in his life decreases. This reminds me of another character, a certain L.B. Jefferies (played by James Stewart) from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” Ozon is obviously in awe of that classic work, as the last shot of “In the House” attests. But peering inside a home and getting inside the lives therein are two different matters.

"In the House" has a limited release on April 19, via Cohen Media Group. Watch an exclusive clip from the film here.

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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