In the House, known as Dans la masion in its original French title is an off kilter French drama with more than a hint of thriller thrust into its unorthodox and highly inventive story. Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is a High School teacher beginning a new school year. While marking his first assignments, a bland and unimaginative pile each entitled ‘What I did Last Weekend’ he comes across a longer piece written by Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer). The essay is well written and details a voyeuristic experience outside a classmate’s house. Slightly worried by the details in the story which make special reference to the smell of his classmate’s middle class mother, the teacher takes Claude to one side to discuss the content but impressed by the standard of prose he encourages the boy to continue with another chapter of his troubling story.
Before seeing this movie I knew absolutely nothing about it. My girlfriend suggested we see it after she read a brief synopsis and noted that Kristen Scott Thomas was featured in the cast. I’m really happy that she spotted it because it’s a terrific little movie which features a highly engaging story which turns the camera on the writing process as well as takes an unflinching look at Freudian sexuality in a modern French setting.
In the House isn’t complex but sometimes feels complicated. It isn’t what I’d call overly complicated though but rather than unravelling, tightens up and twists around itself, hiding its soft underbelly, stopping you from hacking away at its juicy innards. The deeper into the film you go, the less sure you are of what is real and what is imagined in the heads of the central characters or in the stories they are constructing. This plot device means that the film is able to spring a couple of surprises but then go back on itself and also rewrite its own narrative. One scene in particular is described by the story which Claude writes and we see it played out. Germain determines that it is weak though and Claude rewrites it. The set up is identical but we see different things in his retelling. It’s very clever and kept my eyes glued to the screen in search of hidden details.
There are a couple of subplots both within the central ‘story’ and inside the wider film. One of these concerns Germain’s wife Jeanne (Scott Thomas) who works in a gallery. For a long time I wondered where her story was heading and she almost seemed an inconvenience or at best someone for whom Germain could bounce off but her role gradually becomes more important. Inside the story within a story which Claude is writing, there are subplots involving sexual awakening, voyeurism, obsession and a study of the family unit. I found all of this interesting and was entranced by the central character. Claude, as played by Ernst Umhauer has intelligence but a hidden malice behind his eyes and you are never quite sure where his actions will take him or indeed what his true intentions are. He is quite creepy and lurks, watching others, biding his time while studying and learning from them.
Something which I really liked was that as the chapters Claude turned in became more and more unwholesome, sinister and disturbing; his teacher became more and more blinded to the content. It was as though he stopped realising they were real people and referred to them as characters, even going so far to say that he didn’t buy a certain character’s actions even though they were true. This creates an uneasy feeling but also added to the humour which was lightly dabbed across the 105 minutes. The film appears to have a lot of substance and meaning behind its plot and isn’t simply a throwaway popcorn movie. While writing this though I don’t want to put across that the film isn’t entertaining as it most certainly is.
The acting is for the most part very good. Ernst Umhauer is excellent and perfectly cast. He has the right look to be believable in each of the situations he finds himself in and carries himself very well. Fabrice Luchini is also good as his teacher and becomes slowly more dishevelled as the movie progresses. Kristen Scott Thomas seems to be incapable of giving a bad performance (even in her second language) and is believable as the wife and gallery owner. She very quietly comes to the fore late on without you realising that she is doing it. Bastian Ughetto plays Rapha Jr and has a sort of distant quality to him which helps while his mother, Emmanuelle Seigner is also well cast. She doesn’t exude sexuality but you buy the infatuation and the talent in the writing seems to reveal her appeal. She plays the role very straight and has a sombre quality which makes her hard to judge. Denis Menochet is fine but rarely wows. It is most certainly Umhauer who steals the show.
I was quite annoyed just before the film started as the BBFC title card gave away an important plot point. As usual it made mention of the film’s rating (15) and explained that there was bad language, sex and… (I won’t say). What the card revealed was a major spoiler which I was then on the look out for the whole film. If you watch the film in the UK, I advise you avert your eyes from the explanation for the 15 rating. Back to the film though and I have to say that In the House is a very good mystery drama/thriller which also has some laughs thrown in for good measure. It twists and turns and reveals half truths and plenty of lies to keep you unbalanced while slowly creating a complex yet believable and interesting story around you as you watch. It’s entertaining and attention-grabbing and I highly recommend checking it out.
- The plot is based on a Spanish play called The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga.
- The movie won three prizes at the San Sebastian Film Festival including the main prize and Best Screenplay.