French Rendez-Vous 2013: “In the House”

The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City screened “In the House”, one of the year’s most intriguing films. Director Francois Ozon (“Potiche”) also wrote the screenplay, inspired by a Spanish play “The Boy in the Last Row”.

In a pilot school in which students wear uniforms, writing instructor Germain (Fabrice Luchini, “Potiche”) compares the students to a “barbarian invasion” into his classroom. He finds an exception in Claude (Ernst Umhauer). After reading Claude’s class assignments Germain believes Claude has a gift for writing.

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, (Emmanuelle Seigner,  Bastien Ughetto)

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, Emmanuelle Seigner, Bastien Ughetto)

With an alcoholic father, Claude’s tells of his attempt to insinuate himself into a “typical” French family by befriending and tutoring a classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Claude becomes attracted to Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), describing her “singular scent of a middle class woman”.

Believing Claude is a rare talent, Germain, whose own published book was a failure, wants to encourage his student’s writing. Germain is willing to break serious rules at school to continue Claude’s schemes to get even closer to Rapha’s family.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain confides his interest in Claude’s writing to his increasingly bemused wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient”). Luchini and Scott Thomas have an easy rapport. Jeanne has her own problems as she is trying to keep an avant-garde art gallery from closing.

Fiction and reality begin to merge as Germain and Claude’s plans start to unravel. Music similar to the scores of Hitchcock films emphasizes the tension. Ozon said that he made reference to a theatrical device used by Ingmar Bergman in “Wild Strawberries” and often by Woody Allen to have Germain make concrete intrusions into Claude’s fiction.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Imaginatively constructed, “In the House” is riveting. Ozon’s screenplay skillfully delineates a variety of characters taken into directions they do not expect. As in his earlier films like “Under the Sand” and “8 Women”, director Ozon is proficient at building strong performances from his actors. Luchini is particularly impressive as Germain moves from confidence to loss of control.

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

After the screening, Franciois Ozon described the familiar-looking suburban setting of Rapha’s family as a result of the “invasion of America” into French life. He called his film “cynical and ironic” and set off by Claude’s “looking for his place” and the evolution of his vision.

Ozon said his influences on the film were the unlikely combination of Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Woody Allen. He said he didn’t think of Hitchcock for the final scene even though audience members were reminded of one of Hitchcock’s most famous films.