The teachers and students of Lycée Gustave Flaubert have returned from summer vacance for another year that promises to be soul-deadening. The big new idea? Uniforms for students. But when literature teacher Germain Germain sits down to his first set of student writing, he finds a diamond in the rough—and a world of trouble.
Here begins In the House, the latest picture from French filmmaker François Ozon (Swimming Pool). Adapted by the director from Juan Mayorga's play The Boy in the Last Row, In the House amounts to an insinuating mash-up of Election, Rear Window and Adaptation. As sixteen-year-old Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer) begins producing seductive prose, he begins having a dangerous effect on his new mentor, Germain (Fabrice Luchini). Claude's homework assignments describe his real-life obsession with the upper-middle-class home of a classmate: Claude idealizes the place and the stability it represents even as he embarks (unwittingly?) on threatening the stability of others.
Here's a boy who's clearly outsmarting all the adults around him, and his lean and hungry look and seductive manner suggest he's a prose dealer to Germain's addict (we're hooked, too, implicated by Ozon). The chapters Claude doles out (each ending in "To be continued...") keep Germain and his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) on the proverbial edge of their marital bed, Claude's voyeurism having gone viral. While it's apparent that Claude is a stylistic wunderkind and Germain the archetypal "those who can't do, teach" teacher, Germain keeps giving insistent writing advice ("No respite for the reader. Maintain suspense"), all of which amusingly parallels Ozon's own effects on the viewer ("Riveting dialogue, exciting situations").
Germain's repeated suggestions that Claude has lost his way apply as much to himself and Jeanne (who runs a gallery named, but of course, Le Labyrinthe du Minotaure), but for his superiority, Claude clearly has much to learn, about his own reckless ways and undisciplined emotional impulses.
Inviting photography and a relentless pace complement Claude's unfolding narrative, but the big thrills are in the deftly drawn characters (Luchini, in particular, has never been better, which is saying something) and the incisive satire: of teacher-student psychology, our increasingly voyeuristic global culture (thank you, internet), our escapism into stories fictional and “reality,” capricious criticism and hypocrisy, and all colors of denial. "There's a way into every house," Claude insists, and Ozon has found a tempting set of keys. His house is your house.