Yesterday afternoon, Sept. 27, The Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org) began its second day with Fiction Festival Favorite, "In the House". Due to technical difficulties, The Fox-Bay Cinema Grill showed François Ozon's 2012 psychosexual thriller twenty minutes later than the schedule time of 2:30 p.m.
"In The House (Dans La Maison)" follows literature teacher Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini) as he struggles to find a student who can string more than two sentences together. He finds what he's looking for in Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), who continually writes Germain stories about his visits to his friend Rapha's (Bastien Ughetto) house. Germain and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) get drawn into Claude's stories and, as his storytelling becomes more voyeuristic and inappropriate, Germain struggles to determine where fact ends and fiction begins.
It's not me you love, it's an image. An image in your head.
The first, and most noticeable, element of the film is the soundtrack. The film begins with the introduction of uniforms in the school, and increasingly chaotic music builds as student yearbook pictures are shown and changed faster and faster. Pupils are interchangeable and lost in the shuffle as they appear in their uniforms, with the added music creates an overwhelming, claustrophobic feeling, making it clear that this loss in individuality comes at a price. The soundtrack frequently creates a suspenseful tone for what might otherwise by mundane activities such as Claude walking to Rapha's house after school. Something as simple as changing the soundtrack could turn this intellectual thriller into a teen drama or comedy, but the music choices compliment the acting perfectly for setting the desired tone.
It's the best spot. You see everyone. No one sees you.
While the soundtrack does a marvelous job of setting the tone and making the audience aware that they should be alert and looking for clues to a mystery, the film starts at a slow pace. The soundtrack works to counteract the relative lack of activity at the plot's beginning, but the story of the film, much like Claude's, is one that takes time to develop and grow as characters are introduced and conflicts arise.
The point of this developing plot is to build a connection with Germain and psychologically team up with him as both he and the viewer try to make sense of Claude and his obsession with the perfect family found in Rapha's home. Since Claude is the storyteller, the audience (and Germain) is constantly questioning what is real and what is a burst of imagination. As Claude insists that he must be in Rapha's house in order to write and produce a story, and his stories increasingly reflect reality, the question remains whether Claude is a talented storyteller who reproduces fact, or if he's a master manipulator. The story twists and turns as it progresses, making the subject of Claude's interest shift with it. This is the kind of movie one should see twice to revisit the plot with a different perspective and ask who the story is really about.
To be continued.
François Ozon's "In the House", while slow to start, draws the audience into Claude's perspective on the ideal life and family, and makes them unite with Germain in a way that keeps them wanting more of his story. Concepts of authorship, creative liberty, individuality, and longing are just a few of the topics tackled in the hour and forty-five minute film. And while these concepts are introduced with varying levels of subtlety, they all fit in without taking on too much, making this a great film for multiple viewings.