Dans la maison (2012)
aka: In the House
A film directed by François Ozon

Genre: Drama / Thriller

Film Review

Dans la maison photo
When a filmmaker turns the camera on himself and sets about trying to analyse himself he risks becoming alienated from his audience and labelled self-indulgent. Not so with François Ozon, who delivers not only a revealing (and slightly malicious) self-portrait with his latest film - Dans la maison (a.k.a. In the House) - but also an insightful meditation on the creative process and the extent to which cinema is becoming a purely voyeuristic experience. Taking his inspiration from a Spanish stage play The Boy in the Back Row by Juan Mayorga, Ozon constructs a darkly compelling psychological drama which depicts the relationship between the artist and his audience as a kind of mutually exploitative satanic pact. The film draws together influences from Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window) and Pier Paolo Pasolini (Teorema) and superficially resembles one of Claude Chabrol's later psychological thrillers. Yet Ozon's dark humour and penchant for deception make it something far more complex and disturbing. Dans la maison is a maze-like hall of mirrors where doubles and double meanings abound and where nothing, absolutely nothing, it to be taken at face value. Ozon's thirteenth film is a cinematic trompe l'oeil, his most interesting work to date, and arguably his most accomplished so far.

The film revolves around the ambiguous relationship between a disillusioned teacher, Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini in his second Ozon outing, after Potiche), and a worryingly androgynous sixteen-year old schoolboy, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer, remarkable in his first substantial screen role). Germain hardly notices Claude until the day he reads an essay of his in which he describes, in lurid detail, a visit to the house of a classmate, Rapha. It is not clear what arouses Germain's interest more, Claude's talent for observational prose or the sleazily erotic subtext to what he has written, but the teacher can hardly wait to read the next instalment of Claude's adventures chez Rapha. Claude appears gratified by Germain's interest in him and willingly acquiesces to his demands, and what develops is a variation on Faust's pact with the Devil, although we can never be sure who is playing the role of Mephistopheles and who is selling his soul (let alone what he hopes to gain in return). Initially, it appears that Germain is the predator with dark designs on his handsome star pupil, but it gradually becomes apparent that it may well be Claude who is the manipulative one, bent on playing a dangerously destructive game for his own amusement.

At first, the line between reality and fantasy is clearly drawn. The world that Claude describes is the most grotesque caricature of a bourgeois family imaginable, with characters straight out of a tacky American or British sitcom. The head of the household is as much a dope as his son (a fact that is reinforced by their both having the same first name) and the mother is a carbon copy of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. They live in a plush detached house that is so implausibly pristine that it looks like an architect's model. Claude's intrusion into the household is an obvious parody of Terence Stamp's incursion in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema (1968), and has a similar outcome. The crudeness of what we see reflects Claude's lack of maturity as a writer, but it provides a clear demarcation between the real world of the teacher and the imaginary world of his pupil. All that changes when, under Germain's influence, Claude revisits his fantasy homestead and the barrier between reality and imagination slowly begins to dissolve. This is when the films starts to become deeply unsettling. Like Germain, we have allowed ourselves to become trapped in the voyeuristic experience that has been shaped according to our expectations. Ultimately, the joke is played out and we realise that Claude is in fact Ozon himself, laughing at us behind a mask of deceptive child-like innocence.

Dans la maison is by far the most chilling of François Ozon's films, not because of what it shows us, but because of what it implies. Of all the arts, cinema is the most manipulative, the most absorbing and the most viscerally stimulating - the one that offers the easiest escape from our everyday normality. Like Germain (and his wife Jeanne, humorously played by Kristin Scott Thomas), we all relish the prospect of climbing into someone else's skin and living a completely different life, at no risk to ourselves. Like it or not, we are all compulsive voyeurs by nature, evidenced by the enduring popularity of film, novels and Australian soap operas. But voyeurism can be a dangerous hobby, it can become addictive and can diminish our ability to distinguish real life from fantasy. We may even take on aspects of the characters we read about or see on the screen and lose sight of our own identity. The most disturbing aspect of Ozon's film is the way that Claude's semi-fictional world becomes shaped by Germain's expectations - what begins as a harmless fantasy in which the voyeur is safely distanced from what he reads ends up as a nightmare in which fact and fiction are intricately interlaced. Ozon's film invites us to reflect on the extent to which we are already living in a fabricated alternative reality that has been created for us by others, whose motives for doing so are far from apparent. Not every puppet master is as benign as François Ozon...
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Germain Germain is a fifty-something literature teacher in a modern French school who has grown disillusioned with his profession...
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Film Credits

Directed by François Ozon
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Ménochet
[Read more...]

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