Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas
You may like this if you liked: Swimming Pool (François Ozon, 2003), Stranger Than Fiction (Zach Helm, 2006), Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, 2012)
Germain (Luchini) is a literature teacher disillusioned with the increasingly unresponsive classes he has to teach. When setting the basic assignment of getting pupils to describe their weekend, most are terrible but one in particular catches Germain’s attention. Written by 16 year old pupil Claude (Umhauer), Claude describes how during his weekend he was finally able to get into the middle class house of his fellow pupil Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). What makes the piece so compelling is that not only is it extremely well and vividly written, but Claude describes how it was always his intention to get inside this house and how he manipulated Rapha into becoming friends with him. The piece also ends with “to be continued” which compels Germain to want to know what happens next. So begins Germain teaching Claude how to write compelling stories while Claude continues to write how he enters and manipulates the lives of Rapha’s family. As the lines blur between fact and fiction there are inevitable dramatic consequences that will change both the lives of Germain and Claude forever.
Of course when a film is a story about storytelling (as well as being French) they can be accused of certain smugness. Well of course there is here, but I feel it is thoroughly deserved as In the House is an extremely watchable drama that is tremendously well made. Luchini gives an excellent performance as Germain, his disillusionment with society is something we can all relate to and it is easy to see why he is so compelled by Claude’s essays. The visual sequences depicting the essays are expertly put together and the first third of the film simply flies by as it is so incredibly enjoyable. As developments begin to get out of control they may seem a little unbelievable but that is the point. Fact and fiction do blur as both characters get in too deep and ideas of the construction of storytelling and how narration can be a manipulator dominate the narrative.
As the narrative develops the themes of unreliable narration and manipulated storytelling come into their own. I will confess that I was never 100% sure what was true and what was fiction by the end, but I was happy to guess. There are deeper themes at work about our natural voyeurism and curiosity and the protagonist of Germain is basically us the viewer. Indeed the film does manipulate us the viewer, but when it is made so expertly well that is not a problem and we are happy to be sucked in. There are many times towards the end where we have to fill in the dots ourselves but we are happy to. Within the narrative not only are we shown how stories are always manipulated by the writer, but also how depicting very human themes and emotions can immediately draw us in. Certain characters can be constructed in certain ways or do certain things that can deeply affect the viewers experience and involvement of the story. In the House constantly refers to this and maybe perhaps at times over complicates itself with possible bluffs and double bluffs, but it is consistent in pace and there is never a dull moment.
Ernst Umhauer gives a magnetic performance as Claude and his relationship with Germain and the constant questioning of who is teaching and manipulating who is gripping till the film’s very end. The ending itself is both poignant and hilarious with an extremely memorable closing shot that shows that a story never truly finishes and life is filled with both tragedy and comedy, and is always ‘to be continued’.
In the House is an expertly crafted and superbly acted drama that is engaging and riveting. The narrative structure and increasing questioning of what we are seeing will certainly not appeal to everyone, but otherwise this is a very enjoyable film that anyone who appreciates more intelligent and questioning story telling will very much enjoy.