In The House
Words By Kate Ingram François Ozon has directed close to one film per year for the last sixteen, his prolificity as impressive as the audacity and diversity of his films. Gradually eclipsing his once “enfant terrible” persona, Ozon is becoming one of France’s most fascinating, contemporary filmmakers. Films including Potiche, Swimming Pool, and most recently In The House reveal an increased maturity, sophistication of style and development of trademark themes: self-reflexivity, sexuality and social
satire. A sequel of sorts to Swimming Pool, In The House interrogates the creative process, permitting Ozon to indirectly comment on his craft as filmmaker. Not dissimilar to Charlotte Rampling’s sombre, inspiration-seeking Sarah Morton, Fabrice Luchini embodies Germain, a disillusioned teacher who has repressed his own urges to write. A bright but manipulative student, Claude (the beguiling Ernst Umhauer), restores Germain’s appetite for teaching by detailing his infiltration of the house and family of friend Rapha. Desperate to impart
â€˜Oscillating between genres asks his audience:
Ozon ‘What is reality?’’
his literary wisdom, Germain encourages Claude’s story. Each chapter, gaining in momentum and drama, is punctuated ominously: “to be continued...” As in Swimming Pool and 5 x 2, Ozon straddles the slippery line between reality and fiction. Is Claude documenting real life? Or, is he transforming an otherwise ordinary, suburban, middle-class family?
Oscillating between genres, Ozon asks his audience: “What is reality?” We laugh when Germain physically appears in Claude’s narrative via a Woody Allen-style intrusion, yet we are fully aware of our active participation in shaping that narrative. Based on Juan Mayorga’s play ‘The Boy in the Last Row’, In The House employs theatrical mise-en-scène, lighting and softer voiceovers within
Rapha’s house, ushering us inside, with Claude. Living spaces, pulled from a Desperate Housewives set, have the effect of laying bare a stage for Claude/us to explore freely. Like Claude, we relish our voyeurism, overhearing conversations without being caught and exploring dark corridors, curious by what lies behind the ‘perfect’ family’s façade. Ozon lightens the mood with cliché and
ridicule: Esther (an almost hypnotized Emmanuelle Seigner), finds companionship with her interiors magazine, while Rapha and his tighttracksuited father run around chasing a ball, like puppets on Claude’s strings. Voyeurism, (a fluid) sexuality and fetishism of the body are central to Ozon’s films. The first shot of Claude, revealing his bare chest as he slowly dresses, puts his body firmly
in the spotlight. Recalling the lingering poolside shots of Julie in Swimming Pool, Claude’s burgeoning sexuality will impact upon, and call into question, the sexuality of those around him. Being dressed or undressed is key: as Rapha signals his discomfort undressing for the communal shower, he is knowingly adopting the subordinate role to the confident Claude. Meanwhile,
Germain’s wife Jeanne (a pitchperfect Kristin Scott Thomas) unveils an art exhibition reducing dictators to blow-up sex dolls. The film’s erotic charge is simultaneously teasing, suspenseful and dangerous. In The House is a celebration of stories within stories; the title itself evokes Henry James’ “house of fiction” and the line, “not one window, but a million”.
In the opening scene, Germain is flanked by vast windows, overlooking an empty car park. Conversely, the final shot presents teacher and student in positions of power, looking upon a myriad of populated windows and fiction -alizing the scenes within. Paying homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, this enduring image underscores the storyteller’s
instinctive need to tell stories. With his prolific track record, there are undoubtedly many François Ozon stories to come.
In The House is out on DVD/Blu-ray 22 July from EOne