‘In The House’, ou ‘Dans la Maison’ (2013).

16 Apr

In The House posterA film released here in Ireland with an English title to appeal to us subtly xenophobic non-Francophones, In The House stars Fabrice Luchini as Germain, a charismatic teacher of literature at a local lycée, or high school, and opposer of school uniforms. Claude (Ernst Umhauer) is a pupil with a knack for writing fiction, and he donates two pages of an episodic love drama to his professeur each day after class. However, the line between fiction and non-fiction begins to blur as remnants of Claude’s writings slowly creep into Germain’s personal life, and pique his interests. Where on Earth is this going to go?

I was surprised at how consistently I laughed at this. World cinema often relies on visual or situational gags to tickle the funny bones of us uneducated anglophones, and while In The House does adhere to this tactic once or twice, much of the humour is down to the script. Mainstream movies tend to rely on tone and pronunciation to carry jokes; often how something is said is actually funnier than what is said, and that this movie can have such witty dialogue yet remain in a foreign language testifies to the strength of the material. True wit shines through the language barrier.

That’s not to say this In The House is a comedy, or anything like it. In reality, it’s a risqué and oh-so-typically French film about romance,  betrayal and general sauciness, all filtered through a modern surrealist lens. Germain’s tale about the struggling English teacher aiding his gifted pupil is juxtaposed with the much more audacious tale of lust and brazenly sexualised adolescent fantasy. Without giving anything away, the story heads down some unexpected roads, and the various twists sprinkled throughout the film are genuinely surprising.

French cinema tends to be strong on the acting front if nothing else, and In The House doesn’t disappoint in this regard. Ernst Umhauer is great; he pulls off the slightly unhinged yet friendly loner with ulterior motives perfectly. A breakthrough role for the young actor, after appearing in 2011’s adaptation of Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, we’ll certainly be seeing more of him. Luchini really fits the role he’s in; he just looks like an English teacher, you know? His wife, Jeanne (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) provides much of the comic relief, and often at the expense of her failing hipster art gallery.

Director François Ozon gives us some extremely tense scenes.

Director François Ozon gives us some extremely tense scenes.

This film has a very interesting method of dealing with its problems: as roughly half of the film is set in Claude’s fantasy fictional land, under Germain’s supervision most of the issues with the story are ironed out in front of our very eyes. Needless scenes or plot points are called out for their flaws almost before we can realise their ineptitude, and this process of continuous editing does actually correct most of the movie’s shortcomings. This meta approach is very cleverly handled, and only goes to show how well-made the film actually is.

However, there is clearly meant to be some kind of giant emotional upheaval near the end which simply didn’t work for me. Amidst the clarification of all the preceding wackiness, quite a hullabaloo is raised which swiftly culminates in a quiet, sentimental and intentionally bittersweet final scene. But it packs such a light punch, that in comparison with everything that’s gone before it seems to fizzle out rather than close with a bang. It’s actually not all that strange or even shocking in comparison to previous plot twists; all of the sexual vaudeville of the rest of the movie desensitises us to practically any sexual immorality at that stage.

A crazypants black-comic commentary on the philosophy of teaching and the student-tutor divide, In The House is a clever and meticulously crafted romp which manages to be both serious and wonderfully light-hearted too.

Simon says: c’est magnifique!


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