In the House (Dans la Maison)

Storytelling becomes the story in this darkly comic French drama.
Lauren Carroll Harris
Published on June 17, 2013


Storytelling becomes the story in this darkly comic French drama. Smudging fiction and reality together in clever, self-aware meta-narratives has become little more than a cinematic cliche, but director François Ozon makes it ring true.

Angelic, teenaged Claude (Ernst Umhauer) is both a black sheep and a lost lamb. Enraptured with the perfect family of his best friend Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) — middle class, cultureless and bored — he starts writing eloquent, yet pretty weird, short stories about them for French class. His soft-boiled, creepy observations mention things like "the singular scent of a middle-class woman" dripping off Rapha's mother. His disenchanted teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), can't decide if Claude wants to belong to or destroy this newfound clan, but he's happy to finally have an engaged and talented student. And he's voyeuristically hooked by the sharply observed tales.

Ozon (8 Women and Swimming Pool) is a director who likes his boundaries blurry and is skilled at making normality fascinating. As both Claude and Germain's longings become obsessions, the seam between the short stories and the real world of the film slips apart. My take? It's all real — it's the characters themselves who can't discern their inner desires from their outer lives.

In the House has the slow-pulsing vertigo of a psychological thriller and the twists of an elaborate melodrama, but to reduce it to these labels seems glib. It's caustic and funny but never misanthropic, a study of the ways people actually live, rather than how we assume that they do.


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