Friday, May 17, 2013

In The House

We followed up one French movie (Paris-Manhattan) with another one, In The House, a twisted little tale of a bored literature teacher who becomes taken with the one alert and talented student in his class, and in the process of mentoring ends up going down a dark path. (It's been compared to Election, and there are some similarities, though the teacher isn't out to get his student and, even though the consequences are fairly dire, the whole affair comes off much more congenial and less misanthropic than Alexander Payne's flick.)

The story is that Germain, the teacher (Fabrice Luchini) gives a "what I did this weekend?" assignment to his barely literate class, and gets back the literary equivalent of grunts and farts, except for one student, Claude (Ernst Umhauer).

Claude tells an engaging story of how he finagled an invitation to a classmate's house. A perfect house with a perfect family (implicitly unlike Claude's own) that Claude writes sneeringly about, in particular the mom (the perennially delicious Emmanuelle Seigner) and her trivial, bourgeois concerns.

Germain encourages Claude to write and offers his advice, while chiding him for his tone (knowing that a great writer empathizes with all his characters). Claude continues to write, becoming more and more intimately involved with his classmate's family, and as you might expect, his relationship with them begins to change.

Germain, on the other hand, persistently treats the story as complete fiction even as Claude insists otherwise, and develops an attraction to his classmate's mother. Germain keeps pushing him to "write" more without consideration of the consequences thereof. Also, the teacher—and his wife (played by perennially delicious Kristin Scott-Thomas)—have become addicted to the story that Claude is writing/living and so can't bring themselves to stop him.

The movie does a few interesting tricks to indicate fictitious events from actual ones, so it doesn't play too hard on the "is it real? or not?" trope (thankfully). The characters evolve nicely, particularly Claude, although at the denouement he does some intentional harm which seemed out-of-character, at least to me.

It's an entertaining film, if a little distant given the topic matter, but actually far less creepy and malignant than the commercials make it out to be. It's low-key, clever and amusing and, while French, not in the usual "How French!" way that I usually remark.

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