×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

In the House

A manipulative student (Ernst Umhauer) hooks his high school lit teacher (Fabrice Luchini) with a series of scandalous stories written for class in Francois Ozon's "In the House."

With:
With: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Bastien Ughetto, Jean-Francois Balmer, Yolande Moreau, Catherine Davenier.

A manipulative student (Ernst Umhauer) hooks his high school lit teacher (Fabrice Luchini) with a series of scandalous stories written for class in Francois Ozon’s “In the House.” More inspired by than adapted from Juan Mayorga’s play “The Boy in the Last Row,” this low-key thriller feels like a return to form for Ozon, whose pics lost their psychosexual edge after the helmer stopped collaborating with Emmanuele Bernheim (“Swimming Pool”). Here, he returns to the intriguing, barely post-pubescent trouble explored in “Criminal Lovers” and “Sitcom,” which no doubt explains how the pic has already managed to land limited U.S. distribution.

Germain (Luchini) has been teaching so long, he’s lost his passion for it. Every year, the students seem to get worse, undermining what little chance the failed novelist has at inspiring a budding talent to achieve what he was never able to do as a writer. Enter Claude (Umhauer), the only student to engage with the semester’s first assignment. But Claude does more than just describe his weekend; he sets up a bourgeois potboiler in which the young student offers to tutor a classmate, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), in order to infiltrate the unsuspecting friend’s middle-class home and possibly seduce his mother (Emmanuelle Seigner).

Claude derisively calls Rapha’s mom “the world’s most bored woman,” though as played by Luchini, fuddy-duddy Germain may as well be the world’s most bored man. Sensing this, Claude indulges his teacher’s ennui enough to take control of the situation. Before long, Germain is lending the boy his favorite novels and offering extended one-on-one advice sessions, desperately waiting for the next installment in the Rapha saga, each of which he eagerly shares with his own frustrated wife, avant-garde gallery owner Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, flaunting her impeccable French once again).

Ozon alternates between the two spheres — Germain tutoring Claude at school, and Claude using a similarly phony pretext to gain access to the Rapha household — in order to create a kind of virtual “Rear Window” effect: The student supplies the eyes through which his teacher can spy on another’s private life, with Germain eventually being sucked into the reenactments himself. As if inviting the requisite Hitchcock comparisons, composer Philippe Rombi spikes the score’s tempestuous violin flurries with a touch of Bernard Herrmann.

Movies like this typically imagine the conniving teen as clever enough to anticipate the entire game from the beginning, and yet, Ozon’s script manages to stay half a step ahead of auds. That’s possible in part because Claude himself doesn’t know how the story will end, offering at least five possible resolutions, some more believable than others, as the film draws to a close. Further, even with his enigmatic satyr’s smile, newcomer Umhauer looks just guileless enough to be innocent.

Though the teacher-student dynamic appears conventional for much of the film, it’s clear that lessons are flowing both ways. Germain coaches his star pupil on verisimilitude and suspense, while subtly revealing directions in which Claude should take his in-progress story — which may or may not be based in reality. At the same time, Claude demonstrates that there’s a way into every house, suggesting that the job of fiction is to take readers into the private lives of strangers.

The twists ahead are so minor they wouldn’t cut it for an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” and yet, Ozon does make one consider the situation at a meta-level, as if demanding auds ask if they are as complicit as Germain in exploiting a clearly unstable minor for the benefit of a good yarn. With the exception of Jeanne’s sexually explicit gallery shows, the costumes, production design and lensing appear deliberately drab, as if crying out for whatever excitement Claude’s writing may bring.

Popular on Variety

In the House

France

Production: A Cohen Media Group (in U.S.) release of a Mandarin Cinema, FOZ, France 2 Cinema, Mars Film co-production with the assistance of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions in association with La Banque Postale Image 5, Cofimage 23 Palatine Etoile 9 with the support of La Region Ile-de-France. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer. Directed, written by Francois Ozon, freely adapted from the play "The Boy in the Last Row" by Juan Mayorga.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Jerome Almeras; editor, Laure Gardette; music, Philippe Rombi; production designer, Arnaud de Moleron; costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne; sound (Dolby Digital), Benoit Gargonne; re-recording mixer, Jean-Paul Hurier; assistant director, Hubert Barbin; casting, Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 9, 2012. Running time: 105 MIN.

Cast: With: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Bastien Ughetto, Jean-Francois Balmer, Yolande Moreau, Catherine Davenier.

More Scene

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Thandie Newton and Regina King70th Primetime

    Emmys 2019: The Ultimate Party Guide

    The 71st annual Emmy Awards may be going hostless this year, but that doesn’t mean the big night will be any less of a celebration. For all the details on the biggest bashes happening this week and throughout the weekend, check out Variety‘s Ultimate Emmys Party Guide below. Tuesday, Sept. 17 Variety’s Showrunners DinnerEveleigh, 7:30 p.m [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson waits

    Marianne Williamson Attends Project Angel Food Gala Honoring Jamie Lee Curtis

    Author, activist and Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson has a personal connection to Project Angel Food — and not just because she founded the charity 30 years ago. At Saturday night’s anniversary gala at the organization’s Hollywood headquarters, she explained the link between the nonprofit and her daughter, India Emma: “I always know how old [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content