1 April 2013

François Ozon’s ‘In the House’

François Ozon’s In the House (Dans La Maison) is, as the French say, une autre paire de manches in comparison with his previous film, the comedy Potiche. Like his 8 Women, In the House is based on a play, this one Spanish by Juan Mayorga, The Boy in the Last Row. The boy, Claude Garcia, sits in the back row of a literature class in a French lycée (secondary school) taught by Germain, and the film follows the evolution of their relationship. Germain, motivated by good intentions, at least to start with, and by the interest of his galleriste wife, Jeanne, encourages Claude to write about a fellow pupil, Rapha Artole, and his parents in a series of essays, each ending '(to be continued)'.

Early on you feel it’s all going to end badly, and while you wait to find out just how, Ozon explores the relationship between teacher and pupil and the artifices of literature and art (reflecting his apprenticeship with Eric Rohmer), while introducing ambiguities of his own. Of Fabrice Luchini and Kristin Scott Thomas who play Germain and Jeanne (above), Ozon has said:
I have wanted to work with Kristen Scott Thomas for a long time and I just felt that chemistry would work between her and Fabrice because they have the same theatrical background. They also have great comic timing and I think that it works incredibly well. I had in mind the couple of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan - an intellectual couple who are always speaking about intellectual things - and I thought that it would really work between those two actors.
and it does. Ernst Umhauer is equally convincing as the precocious but naive Claude. However, Emmanuelle Seigner has less opportunity to impress in the somewhat characterless role of Mme Artole.

The subtitles are in American English so instead of second year students we get sophomores. But Claude’s fascination with the Artoles as une famille normale is repeatedly mistranslated by referring to them as a perfect family rather than a typical or average one. They might be perfect in American eyes – Rapha and his father’s obsession with basketball, their sharing the same forename, the Artoles’ house, the one Claude is so keen to get inside – all seem more North American than French. The house’s only odd feature is the set of Paul Klee watercolours whose symbolism is revealed to Mme Artole by Claude and whose presence puzzles Jeanne when she reads about them in one of the essays. The French are just as assiduous in demarcating their properties as the British, so the vagueness of the boundaries between chez Artole and the neighbouring park with the bench from which Claude began his observations seems a little unconvincing on film. I can imagine it having worked better on the stage.

Dedicated cinéastes will have views as to whether In the House contains homages to Hitchcock and Allen as well as Rohmer, but apparently it was the art department that prompted the Match Point poster for the cinema queue! A thought-provoking and well-acted film, definitely worth seeing.

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