The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to YA readers. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses In The House (France 2012: Dans la maison) directed by François Ozon.
When a student submits a series of essays describing his fascination with a school chum’s family, his literature professor starts to become obsessed with the boy’s serialized tale.
This is a gentle, slightly comedic French thriller about a writer’s (or filmmaker’s) need to create stories and an audience’s need to consume them. Teacher Germain has grown bored with his teen class’ lack of imagination; in a stack of otherwise dull “how I spent my weekend” essays he’s stunned to find an absolutely riveting (and well-crafted) fragment of a tale. His student Claude describes becoming a regular visitor to his friend Rapha’s home, ostensibly to tutor the boy in math. But it’s clear he’s becoming fascinated with the boy’s parents as well, especially his mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner, Frantic). When he describes her as a “boring, middle-class woman,” you know he’s hiding something.
After cautioning the boy against writing about real-life subjects, Germain begins to coach Claude on his storytelling skills. As the student hands in each essay, Germain devours it, often in the company of his gallery-curator wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient), who offers her opinions as well. As befits the boy’s style, the couple cannot remain mere spectators and start to become characters—and participants—in Claude’s fictional world.
What keeps us guessing throughout is that we’re never quite sure how much of Claude’s story is factual and how much is fiction. Some of it is definitely true—Claude’s friend Rapha is also in the lit class, and Germain and Jeanne glimpse the parents—yet as the story becomes more bizarre and obsessive, we’re pretty sure (or desperately hoping) some of this has to be made up. Adding to the delightful confusion is that, with Germain’s coaching, Claude rewrites chapters in his ad-hoc novel on the fly, so after seeing a scene we’ll sometimes watch a slightly improved version, reminding us that this is fiction.
The storytelling is so rich in this film, and the level of creativity so high, that Claude’s story-within-a-story would have made a fine film in itself, the tale of a manipulative charmer a la the Patricia Highsmith Tom Ripley stories. Though I haven’t seen it recently, Six Degrees of Separation also comes to mind, as a mysterious young man enters a home and spins a tale for a willing couple, revising as he goes.
This fiction-altering-reality story isn’t a high-concept supernatural thing like the recent Ruby Sparks (reviewed here); the quiet magic and mystery are more like the 2003 film Swimming Pool, also a French thriller about an author seeking inspiration. As noted above, this is a big ol’ love letter to fiction, literature, and storytelling and those who live to write and love to read. Near the end, Germain advises Claude:
You know the secret of a spectacular finale? The reader has to say: “I did not expect that, but any other ending would’ve been impossible.”
That certainly holds true here—and I hope that’s not a spoiler, dear reader.
In the House opened April 19 in Los Angeles and New York and is rated R. Running time: 1 hr. 45 min.
- Movie Review: ‘In the House,’ Starring Fabrice Luchini (movies.nytimes.com)
- Film Review: In The House (Dans La Maison) (oneeyebrowraised.com)
- Francois Ozon invites his audience “In The House” (philipdodds.com)
- In the House (Dans la maison) (cinemainterruptus.wordpress.com)