Both frank and deceptive about what it is going to do, “In the House” simultaneously presents two plots and then observes how they roll together – and how they come to manipulate each other. The movie has a dark fun with its tense but playful process, and there are many good reasons not to trust what is presented to us. We know its unreliable storyteller is not entirely trustworthy, but it is curious to see how the plots thicken as interacting with each other, and we gradually become his fellow voyeurs along with his main reader.
His main reader is Monsieur Germain(Fabrice Luchini), a high school literature teacher of Lycée Gustave Flaubert who has just started another usual semester at his school. Some changes in the school including student uniform are brought in this semester, but the daily routine of Germain and other teachers remains same as before. No matter how much he tries to introduce Flaubert or La Fontaine to his students, most of them are not interested in what he wants to teach them, and they do not even care about a simple writing assignment on how they spent their weekend.
While checking his students’ submitted essays with disappointment and disdain as usual, Germain’s interest gets perked up when he comes across an essay a lot better than others’. It is written by a 16-year-old student named Claude Garcia(Ernst Umhauer), and it is about how he insinuated himself into one decent middle-class household during the last weekend. Claude’s classmate Rapha Artole(Bastien Ughetto) looked happy with his loving parents who usually came to the school to pick up their son, and, as a boy belonging to an unhappy household, Claude became interested in how they lived in their house. He approached to Rapha as a kind classmate willing to help him preparing for the upcoming mathematics exam; he soon entered the house, and then he wrote later about what he observed and sensed while he looked around Rapha’s house.
Germain feels something unwholesome from Claude’s writing, but he also finds it both tantalizing and well-written. He has some doubt about its veracity, but, as a failed author, he also recognizes a budding talent from the essay. He is also curious about what will happen next – mainly because he is tantalized by the closing remark “To be continued”.
As a good teacher, Germain encourages Claude to write more while teaching him more about writing in private. Claude keeps submitting his writings, and we get to know more about Rapha and his family through Claude’s view. Rapha’s father(Denis Ménochet), a jovial but rather aggressive man, is busy with some Chinese client of his company, and he and his son are basketball enthusiasts. While they usually watch the big games on TV or play basketball at the local gym together, Mrs. Artole(Emmanuelle Seigner), an attractive housewife, remains a little detached from her family while mainly concentrating on her plan of remodeling their house.
As Germain and his art gallery manager wife Jeanne(Kristin Scott Thomas) are fascinated with the continuing domestic drama within the Artoles, they also wonder about whether it is true or not, and so do we. Rapha does exist as Claude’s schoolmate, and Germain and Jeanne coincidentally meet Mr. and Mrs. Artole later in the story, and they all look exactly same as depicted in the flashback sequences. But is Claude really telling them exactly what he observed from his subjects?
That question does not matter much to the director/adapter François Ozon, for he has lots of fun with how Claude’s story is developed, analyzed, and modified as Claude and Germain spend more time together. There is even a small lecture scene on how story should be developed for holding readers’ attention, and there is also an interesting moment in which the Artoles are depicted with two contrasting approaches as the ‘fictional characters’; they become comic caricatures at first, and then they are changed into a more down-to-earth version after revision. With such acknowledged manipulation, Claude’s story is even developed into an outrageous circumstance worthy of trashy TV soap drama as Claude himself is involved with everyone in the household, and we more wonder about his motive behind his story.
As Claude keeps his story rolling under Germain’s guide, Germain finds himself becoming a crucial part of the story thank to his apt pupil. Not only he is mentioned in the story, but also he becomes a manipulator behind the story, and he even commits a serious violation just for facilitating plot progression. Watching her husband more obsessed with Claude’s story, Jeanne wonders whether there is more than tutorial affection in his encouragement on Claude. Is he just seduced by Claude’s writing? Or…
The movie is based on Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga’s “El Chico de la Ultima Fila”, which means “The Boy in the Last Row”. While opening up the original story on the screen, Ozon gives us a voyeuristic fun of watching the characters as the camera peeping around the Artole household with Claude, and he keeps the tension in the story on constant level through his good cast. Fabrice Luchini and his co-actor Ernst Umhauer hold our attention with the possibly dangerous dynamic between their characters, Bastien Ughetto, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Denis Ménochet are believable in their domestic drama constantly adjusted throughout the movie, and Kristin Scott Thomas provides small amusing moments as her character tries to make her gallery profitable with those profoundly simple modern artworks.
I enjoyed the playful tone of “In the House” and the insidious undercurrent behind it, but I also felt distant about its clever game while watching the characters from the distance just like its main characters did. Like many other stories, the story in the movie eventually comes to a certain inevitable point, and it becomes less fun as a result. Anyway, I was entertained by its seductive progress, and you will probably enjoy the movie if you have ever attended a writing class.