Judge Daryl Loomis writes stories from his own life, but his stories are so boring.
There's always a way to get in.
It's been a good while since François Ozon (Ricky) made a movie that got me truly excited. In the intervening years between 5x2 and now, he has remained prolific, averaging nearly a move a year, and the actual quality of his work hasn't waned. They just haven't been as interesting or surprising as they once were. Last year, though, he returned to some old territory and reminded me why I fell in love with his work in the first place. Nominated for six César Awards, we have In the House, maybe not the most original work of his career, but the first in years that I've truly adored.
Facts of the Case
Starting a new year teaching French literature to high schoolers at L'Ecole de Gustave Flaubert, Germian Germain (Fabrice Luchini, Potiche) looks at the first essays of his students and is terrified for the fate of his country. Going through the stack, he finally finds one strange essay that piques his interest. It involves his attempts to worm his way into the middle class home of a classmate and Germain takes this student, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer, The Monk), under his wing to teach him to write and continue the story. Soon, though, Claude's writings become creepier and more bizarre, but has what he's written really happened, or is it all the imagination of a young boy.
For anyone out there who writes fiction: have you ever written a story that you gave to friends or family to read, only to have them identify one of the characters as "themselves" and get upset at how you treated them? This happened to me quite a bit before learning a lesson about letting these people read your work before it's published. There's nothing to do about it; people identify with what they identify with, regardless of whether the individual was actually who you had in mind when writing the character. It's this intersection between fantasy and reality that drives the mystery of In the House.
Like when Ozon made his big international splash with 2003's Swimming Pool, he works within the grey area of what is writing and what is life with In the House. The scenes within the school are absolutely reality; Germain Germain (a name that directly recalls Nabokov's father figure/pervert Humbert Humbert in Lolita) is coaxing more and more creative work out of Claude, both for Claude's betterment and Germain's own pleasure. It slowly becomes clear, though, that some of what is being acted out as Claude gets involved with the family is happening in Germain's head while reading Claude's text.
But how much? That's the mystery that surrounds In the House. Once Claude understands that Germain is getting off on the voyeurism of his story, how much does he embellish and alter from his reality. Some of it's clear, but as it gets more manipulative and fantastical, is it really happening? It seems like parts are true, but Ozon comes in and out of it, making it tough to tell and intriguing to try to figure out what the "real" story is and what Claude has imagined purely for Germain's entertainment.
The other piece of his past that Ozon brings into play is the social satire of his early, frustrating, and ultimately fascinating Sitcom. There, it was a magic rat brought into a family that broke the middle class dynamic apart; here, it's Claude who more deliberately destroys them, though he claims that wasn't his goal, and it more directly recalls movies like Pasolini's Teorema, which is where I believe Ozon got his idea of Sitcom in the first place.
Unlike that movie, though, In the House was not Ozon's idea. He adapted the screenplay from a play by Spanish playwright Juan Mayorga. In adapting the screenplay, Ozon was able to bring his own notions into play, but under restraints which, it seems at this point in his career, allows him the freedom to explore more of what he accomplished earlier in his career, and I'm thrilled to see it.
It's a beautiful and, sometimes, very ambitious movie, especially in the final shot of ridiculous, voyeuristic pleasure, with great performances all around. In addition to the two leads, we have Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient) as Germain's wife and Emmanuelle Seigner (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as Claude's object of affection, the mother of his friend who he's there to ostensibly help (Ozon always brings in the most spectacular actresses). It's exciting, intellectually stimulating, and gorgeous. What more could I want?
In the House looks and sounds fantastic on its Blu-ray release from E1 and the Cohen Media Group. The 1.85:1/1080p image is gorgeous, bright and full of color, with great detail and perfect clarity. Black levels are deep, while whites are nice and clean. Indoor and outdoor footage look equally strong and the transfer, overall is pristine. The DTS Master Audio track is equally strong, with excellent dialog and music and good, if limited, use of the rear channels and low end.
Extras are pretty good, as well. No commentary track, but there is an hour long making-of featurette that lets viewers in on every aspect of the production. Backstage footage, alternate takes, set preparation, it's all here. I don't find it all that exciting, but it's good for what it is. About twelve minutes of deleted scenes are more or less redundant to what's in the film, but they're interesting anyway. A blooper reel is a blooper reel is a blooper reel, but it's there if you like that sort of thing, and a costume and lighting test reel gives some more behind-the-scenes footage. A poster gallery and a trailer close out the disc.
Clever, mysterious, and sometimes very funny, In the House is a ton of fun and is one of the most intriguing and rewatchable movies I've seen in a while. Its enigmatic storytelling is brilliant to watch and it performs great on E1's Blu-ray presentation. This is Ozon at his best, the strongest production he's helmed in a decade, and comes highly, highly recommended.
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Studio: E1 Entertainment
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