in the house ozonDir. Francois Ozon
(2013, Not Rated, 105 minutes)

In the House is only the second film I’ve seen by Francois Ozon, and perhaps by coincidence it’s markedly similar to the first: 2002’s Swimming Pool. They are alike in their delicious, twisting narrative structures and their perspectives on the inner workings of artists’ minds. Swimming Pool was about the mysterious impulses of a crime novelist. This one focuses on a teenager, who is taken under the wing of his jaded literature teacher, but who is teaching whom, and what is being taught?

Given a simple class assignment about how he spent his weekend, Claude (Ernst Umhauer) hands in to his teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) the first part of a psychodrama about how Claude insinuated himself into the life of his classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto) in order to observe his family’s provincial ways. Germain doesn’t approve of the story’s scornful tone, but because Claude is the only student in his class who can string two words together, he begins to tutor the boy privately, all the while receiving more and more intimate details about Rapha’s family life.

in the house 2But is their relationship really about Claude’s talent, or Germain’s voyeurism? The teacher brings his work home, where his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) gets in on the action. They speculate together about future plot developments and criticize the boy’s style and technique, all the while devouring the morsels of gossip and hungering for more.

Ozon neither condemns nor condones his characters. What he does instead is blur the lines of reality and fiction, art and obsession, and through the back-and-forth of Claude and Germain explore the inherent voyeurism of all art and storytelling. We have no way of knowing how much, if any, of Claude’s story is factually true, but as he crafts the tale with Germain – and occasionally Germain is shown literally walking in on scenes and suggesting how they should unfold – Ozon shows us with subtle whimsy how artist and audience are engaged in a conspiratorial relationship, partners in the invasion of private spaces.

As the audience of this film, we’re complicit as well, for as Germain becomes obsessed with Rapha’s family, so too are we absorbed by Germain and his student, wondering what will develop, bringing our expectations with us to the point where we could almost imagine ourselves, like Germain, entering scenes and directing the players.

The film’s sense of reality is fluid, but not confusing. Adapted from the play The Boy in the Last Row by Juan Mayorga, Ozon’s screenplay is ingeniously tricky, funny, at times sinister, but seemingly effortless in the way it weaves together its story elements and fashions them into a psychological portrait of how our objective distance from art is defeated by our human nature. On one hand, perhaps Claude’s craft needs to be refined. On the other, he’s just giving the audience what they want.