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In the House (Dans la Maison)

Film Five Stars
I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that I'm a huge Kristen Scott Thomas fan, especially of late as I've watched a number of her recent French films and talked about how great she is even in the smallest of the roles. So while I was drawn to this film for her name, it was also the promise of the interesting plot that drew me, and what kept me there was the wonderfully written and filmed screenplay.

The well-known and respected François Ozon directs the film that he has adapted from a play by Juan Mayorga, and once it had begun he's the reason that I became so caught up in the story, and no doubt the reason you will too.

Plot.pngIntheHouse.jpgA sixteen year old student shows promise in his literature class and attracts the attention of the teacher when he begins writing about how he has manipulated his way into the house and the lives of a fellow student's family. The stories the student has written intrigue the teacher and reignite his passion for writing as well as teaching, and he offers advice and criticism for each new instalment the student delivers. However the essays are also revealing something far more concerning that the student may be taking the project too seriously and acting out much more than just his imagination and with the guidance and tutoring of his teacher.

TheFilm.pngFrom the initial reading of the plot for In the House (Dan la Maison) it seems that the idea of a student writing essays for his teacher who we then watch reading and criticising them may seem very dull, however it's in the way they are interpreted that captures the imagination and the fact that the film uses much more intelligent dialogue and prose than many other films. As much as the teacher is impassioned by the writing of his student, so I felt I was as I listened to and watched the story unfold. The film aroused the desire to write and to read as much as it did the teacher, and that's a powerful thing for a film to do.

It's an extremely interesting and cleverly written story that draws the audience in superbly well and it’s almost a lesson in writing itself but easily turned into an enjoyable and engaging story which delivers everything from humour to thrilling drama.

The story begins whimsically although there always is an air of something more to it, and it builds slowly with each new essay and each journey into the homes and the lives of the family whom we are all eavesdropping on through the mind of the student. It begins to turn a little more serious with each submission, becoming a little darker, a little more serious, and all the while it manages to keep that uncertainty of whether he is telling the truth or not.

There is lovely wordplay in some of the scenes and a superb elegance in the writing that really is a joy to engage with, and these don't just come through the characters reading of the essays, it's through the film as a whole.

In the House really concentrates on the script first and foremost but then it is also wonderfully imagined and filmed, it takes these scenes which might have otherwise felt staged and all too still for the camera and brings them to life in interesting ways. It isn't just shown in the standard way as you might expect, by showing the action in the essay as it happens in front of the camera, it also uses some interesting techniques to remind us that we're seeing a story read by the other characters - at one point we even see the teacher pulled into some of the story scenes.

One of the interesting aspects of the film I came away with, apart from finding my own passion for writing fired up, was learning something about writing through the teacher. It isn't a great deal but there are some things you do come away with and understanding the dynamics of writing from the teacher helps build the tension and suspense with the audience.

The film does build well to a great conclusion that delivers some powerful closing moments. It's everything you would want from the story and the film, and considering you might not have known what to expect from the outset, a hell of a lot more.

For me though the ultimate ending feels a little bit sad and introspective, not quite where I thought the conclusion would have brought us, especially with how the student has behaved to this point. It did leave me questioning what he really wanted from all this considering how much of a planner and manipulator he appeared to be in the rest of the film.

Still it wasn't a disappointment, but another change of direction I hadn't expected and the closing scene was an enjoyable one that brought some of the most visual sequences of the film as well as another push for our imaginations.

Kristen Scott Thomas is as fantastic as ever in the film although she isn't the main character. Fabrice Luchini plays the teacher and Ernst Umhauer the student, and both are excellent in their roles with Umhauer really capturing his character and managing to keep the audience on their toes about what his motivation and true feelings are. Considering how well written their roles and dialogue are they really do play up very well to them.

TheFilm.pngIn the House is a wonderfully written and beautifully balanced film that delivers so much more than you might have expected from reading about the plot. It's funny, clever, enjoyable and thoroughly engaging, turning to a strong dramatic story which delivers a powerful ending.

There is some wonderfully written dialogue and a superb elegance in the screenplay that really does lift the film up and boosts the actor's performances. While the film does concentrate on this excellent screenplay it doesn't leave the cinematic side behind and there are some clever scenes that engage as much visually as they do with the words from the script.

In the House (Dan la Maison) is a hugely enjoyable film that not only draws you into the story and fires your interest but also engages your brain offering some uncertainty about the story as well as a few twists and turns to deliver a really good thriller.

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Movable Type 3.34

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