Monday, 1 April 2013

In the House (Dans la Maison)

This film from French Director Francois Ozon is true to form as it explores themes of sexual expression and identity - but it's about a lot more than that. The story revolves around Claude - a 16 year-old making the painful transition from boy to young man. What complicates the story is Claude's domestic circumstances. Furthermore, Claude befriends classmate Rapha whom he sees as a member of a 'perfect family', a family he does not know - he helps him with his maths. Add to this the rather pathetic and struggling French Literature teacher Germain who seeks to live out his creative fantasy through Claude and this emotional roller coaster takes everyone for a wild ride.

The film employs layers of meaning and metaphor and whilst the film can be 'read' at face value, there is always more going on under the surface. The viewer is never quite sure what is reality and what is fantasy. Add to this double - or even reverse voyeurism and throw in an Freudian Oedipal triangle and the web becomes very entangled indeed. Rapha's parents Rapha Senior and Esther, and Germaine's wife Jeanne complete the cast and every single character is abused emotionally and some sexually and also professionally by one another.

Strength of character is what finally wins the day - but not before we see Germain trying to live out his dream of being a writer of note through the promising talent of Claude. How much of what gets written is Germain's and how much of it is Claude's we will never know. All of the main adult characters in the film portray the regret of unfulfilled potential. Claude knows how to use his beguiling smile and also how to manipulate people and engineer situations that fit with and develop the unfolding story as he seems to want to tell it. Sexual and familial fantasies drive his curiosity on as he writes, envying everyone and never accepting his gifts and situation as something to be celebrated.

Jeanne's art gallery is a commercial failure as she pursues a purist vision of modern art. The gallery is rumoured to be a porn shop! Germain published a novel some 20 years early but it wasn't a critical or commercial success. Rapha Senior's job turns sour when his boss fails to show respect - the same thing he accuses Germain of in a heated parent-teacher exchange. Jeanne finally understands Claude's fantastical obsession with Esther and this epiphany provides the key to unlock her own prison of boredom and give the impetus to allow her to escape. The film ends with the privileged elite and the middle-class bourgeois receiving respective outcomes that may not have been predicted from the early part of the story.

Story is the key word here. Ozon is always in control of a clever and multi-layered script which drives the narrative and continually unpacks insights and revelations that help to develop the story and characters. The actors all deliver strong performances. The final scene emphasises the voyeuristic nature of the film's story and underlines how we all have a tendency to watch other people and try to guess what they are up to - guess their story and how it might interact with ours. This is an engrossing and very clever film - if you can handle the subtitles, do go and see it. I'm giving it 8/10.

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