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'In the House' has a great premise but fails to fully explore its plot

'In the House' is directed by François Ozon.

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'In the House' stars (l. to r.) Ernst Umhauer, Denis Ménochet, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Bastien Ughetto.

Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

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The premise of François Ozon’s “In the House” is so suggestive that I kept waiting for the film to become wonderful. That never happens, but at least the premise engages the mind, if not always the eye.

Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a clean-cut 16-year-old student from a working-class family, always sits in the back row of his classroom. He’s not shy exactly. He just wants to be able to scope out the foreground. His teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), recognizes early on that Claude may have a literary gift. A bit fussy and rule-bound, Germain wrote an undistinguished novel years before and sees in Claude the promising writer he once fancied himself to be.

Things become interesting when Claude befriends his middle-class classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Acting as a math tutor, he wheedles his way into Rapha’s family, paying special attention to his attractive mother, Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner). Taking notes, he incorporates his increasingly intimate observations about the family into writing assignments that Germain finds himself hooked on.

The twist here is that Germain begins coaching Claude about the “story line” he’s developing, encouraging the boy to ever more outrageous and dubious acts within the family. But who is really controlling whom here? And is what we are watching actually happening or just a projection of Claude’s – or Germain’s – fantasies?

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