MRR Review: "In the House"

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A young but passionate sixteen-year-old boy insinuates himself into the house of a fellow student from his literature class. Here he writes about his experiences in the house for his French teacher. Faced with this gifted and unusual pupil, the teacher rediscovers his enthusiasm for his work, but the boy's intrusion will unleash a series of uncontrollable events.
3.5

MRR Review: "In the House"

-- Rating: R (sexual content and strong language)
Length: 105 minutes
Release date: 10 October, 2012
Directed by: François Ozon
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

"In the House" is a 2012 film by director François Ozon that explores the mentor-student relationship between a young man and his French teacher. Fabrice Luchini plays Mr. Germaine, a French literature teacher who is resoundingly disappointed in the lackluster performance of his students. Germaine is disheartened by the way most students seem to be merely getting by on their writing assignments as opposed to truly engaging in the craft.

Ernst Umhauer plays Claude, a French literature student who serves as a breath of fresh air for the bedraggled Germaine. Claude submits an assignment that chronicles his unexpected foray into the life of a classmate's family. Claude is an impishly charming young man, one who is capable of manipulating his way into the heart of just about anyone. Germaine is fascinated by the boy's candid account of his exploits. Claude reminds him of the charming young antiheroes of the literature he adores, and he soon takes the boy under his wing, encouraging his writing efforts. Germaine encourages him to the point of enabling manipulative and unethical behavior that, as an educator, he should be discouraging.

As Claude's nearly sociopathic ability to charm and manipulate blurs the boundary of reality to the point where Germaine's very career is at stake, the French teacher must learn to separate the real from the unreal. "In the House" is an unusual take on the classic relationship between student and teacher. At times, it is unclear whether Germaine is the teacher or whether Claude is teaching him. Germaine sees the possibilities contained within all his novels and characters fully embodied and living in Claude. It is almost as if Claude is a beloved fictional character who has come to life, but Germaine soon realizes that what is good in fiction is often wicked in reality, especially when real people's emotions and lives are at stake.

Fabrice Luchini gives a solid performance as Mr. Germaine. The character is relatable to anyone who has ever been disillusioned with his or her profession, which seems to be especially true when it comes to an educator's job. All Mr. Germaine wants is to share his love of literature with his students, but he finds his class and assignments are more of a chore than a door held open to a world of imagination. He finds hope for the younger generation in Claude, and he is inspired to connect with writing and literature in a way that he hasn't been for many years.

Ernst Umhauer is a fledgling actor, but the viewer will never know it judging from the actor's performance in "In the House." Claude is a deep, multifaceted character who is as lovable as he is unsettling. Audiences will be warning the other characters on screen not to trust him at the same time as they are falling in love with him. The actor is just that convincing, and he brings the role of Claude alive. He carries himself with a certain old-world charm that is reminiscent of classic characters such as Dorian Gray and Heathcliff.

Kristin Scott Thomas is not to be forgotten as Germaine's wife, Jeanne. While Thomas plays a supporting role in the film, her character has all the charm and depth of a leading lady. Jeanne is elegant and refined while maintaining a playful air about her character, who acts as a perfect foil to her husband's rigidity.

Some viewers will find the film's atypical storytelling less than appealing; others will adore the film for it. "In the House" is an unusual look at the contrast between youth and age as well as between innocence and naiveté. Fans of nonlinear storytelling that blurs the line between reality and fantasy will enjoy this movie. It is often impossible to tell what is really happening and what is merely the fictitious invention of Claude's youthful imagination. Sometimes, even Claude himself finds it difficult to make the distinction, which is part of what makes his character so relatable.

While the unconventional storytelling format and plot might be unappealing to some, fans of other quirky dramas will likely enjoy "In the House." This film is not so much a coming-of-age story as it is an acceptance-of-age story. Germaine and Claude are each flawed and relatable characters in their own right. The relationship between teacher and student is stretched and bent to the point of breaking, giving a unique look at what it really means to learn. The acting is solid, and both main and supporting characters bring the script alive with charm. Anyone looking for a suspenseful yet melancholic take on academic life and literature in the modern age should give "In the House" a try.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5