“In the House” ( “Dans la maison”)
Voyeurism and Literature
François Ozon attempts to depict voyeurism and literature as a form of both life force and desperation. Despite the film’s murky and turbulent underbelly. Having spent the summer reading Schopenhauer, pompous high school literature and composition teacher Germaine (Fabrice Luchini) welcomes the new school year with a pessimistic attitude concerning the state of education. Growing further disillusioned by yet another class of underachieving adolescents who cannot seem to write a cohesive essay about their summer, Germaine marks up every paper with red ink and sarcastic remarks—except one. That essay was written by a shy, blond boy, Claude (Ernst Umhauer) who always sits in the back of the class, and whose prose strikes Germaine because of its fluidity, confidence, and curiously pointed observation. Claude wrote about what he saw when he visited the home of one of his classmates and he asks, “What’s a perfect family’s house like?” He then surveys the smells and society-proscribed roles of an archetypal French middle-class family.
Claude’s drafts, grow more intrusive and subversive—yet Germaine still possesses a curious hunger to hear more of the Claude’s stories. But is the boy actually pursuing the provocative actions toward the family he describes, or is it all just made up? Germaine’s wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a curator at a contemporary art gallery and is fascinated and consequently troubled by her husband’s interest in Claude’s prose. They were once an erudite couple who exchanged lively barbs during a discussion of whether art and literature actually teaches us about life, but now Jeanne is feeling distance: “All you care about is that family.”
If Claude impishly takes aim at the functional banality of a middle-class family, Ozon snidely targets bourgeois institutions of literature and contemporary art that he says we let define our lives and the way we see the world. And, like Claude, Ozon wants us to have fun as he plays with your minds. The cast does well at humanizing their roles, but what we get is a unique view of the writing process.
Claude comes from a lower economic standing than his classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) whose family and house he writes about and he is fascinated by Rapha’s mother, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), a bored housewife. Germain shares Claude’s essays with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), a woman with an art gallery in danger of going out of business, and they both become voyeurs themselves into Claude’s continued writings of the family, which Germain encourages. Then everyone starts to get uneasy when Claude’s writing about weekend proclivities with Rapha’s family become more and more unhealthy, and though Germain assumes that Claude is only using the scenario as inspiration, he suspects Claude may indeed be only “writing what he knows.” Meanwhile, Germain’s relationship with his wife finds itself spinning out of control as Jeanne is convinced he is attracted to his young pupil.