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Indie Snapshot: In the House

by Ethan Alter April 19, 2013 3:51 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>In the House</i>

Ten years ago, French filmmaker François Ozon scored an art-house hit with Swimming Pool, a supremely entertaining thriller and still one of the best movies about novelists and authorship in recent memory. After a decade of highs (Ricky) and lows (5x2), Ozon makes a successful return to similar territory with In the House, which again uses the act of writing as the launching pad for a thoughtful, deftly plotted mystery.

Trading a beautiful, sun-dappled French villa for a public high school, House opens with frustrated English teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) facing the beginning of another school year instructing a classroom full of, in his eyes, ignorant morons. But based on their initial writing assignments, one kid stands out: Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a quiet boy in the back row who pens the first chapter in a tale that involves him befriending a classmate (Bastien Ughetto) with the express purpose of ingratiating himself with his picture-perfect middle class family, who live in a beautiful little house that he's stared at every day for the past year from a nearby park. Once inside, Claude discovers that there are cracks in the seemingly rock-solid relationship between Mom (Emmanuelle Sieigner), Dad (Denis Ménochet) and son, cracks that he incorporates into his evolving tale that Germain and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) quickly become hooked on. But is this yarn real or the invention of the young author's racing mind? After a certain point, it ceases to matter to his teacher: like someone reading a particularly great mystery novel, he just needs to find out what happens next and goes to great lengths -- like stealing a math test for his favorite student -- to keep the kid writing.

Like Swimming Pool, In the House tickled my fancy because it's about the act of writing a mystery as much (if not more) than it is about the mystery itself. Germain takes it upon himself to shape the direction of Claude's story, schooling him in lessons regarding dramatic conflict and deepening the characters, with little thought given to whether or not his pupil is applying these lessons beyond the page to his actual human relationship with this family. A frustrated novelist himself, he's seduced by (rather than envious of) the ease with which Claude pens his vivid prose and finds his presentation of events and people preferable to the real thing. Even when he and his wife become active characters in Claude's story, he can't bring himself to put a stop to the narrative. Truth be told, the meta-ness of the final act is a bit overbearing, but Ozon brings it all home in a marvelous final scene that tips its hat in the direction of Rear Window. The lesson that Germain and Claude ultimately teach each other is that behind every window lies a story... for the writer who cares enough to look.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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