Fans of both independent and foreign films can trust that, if they feature Kristin Scott Thomas, they're worth an investment of time, thought, and money.The bilingual actress has impeccable taste and can lift even mundane films to a place of esteemed elegance.
Director François Ozon’s In The House features Scott-Thomas as Jeanne Germain, the owner of a failing art gallery whose husband (Fabrice Luchini) teaches literature at a posh French high school named for Gustave Flaubert. While she’s preoccupied by opening a new exhibition of sexually graphic work (like anatomically correct blow-up dolls topped with famous heads of state like Chairman Mao), he falls under the spell of Claude (Ernst Umhauer), the one student in his classes who seems to know how to put a sentence together.
In fact, Claude’s writing - a story about a friend’s charmed family, specifically the gorgeous mother played by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’s Emmanuelle Seigner – is sublime. Germain is transfixed by Claude’s evocative description of her with “the singular scent of a middle class woman” and begins reading the ongoing story to his wife every night. The couple get caught up in both Claude’s way with words and the unfolding soap opera with homoerotic undertones that he’s narrating.
Where the movie heightens its intensity is in the mystery at its core: is the story fiction, truth, or a little of both? Is Germain really just in love with Claude’s writing or the young man himself? Is the family as idyllic as Claude describes or, like most families, beset with strain and strife? And what is so horrific about Claude’s own family (who viewers don’t meet until late in the film) that he would idealize, adopt and eventually stalk this other one?
Ozon delights here in throwing the questions around without feeling any compelling need to offer clear or succinct answers. And like his films Swimming Pool, Criminal Lovers, and Under the Sand, there’s an erotic, electric charge at play that he can tweak with subtlety or overt sensuality. He’s aware of the enigmas inherent in secrets and sexuality and makes movies that use this knowledge to mine magnetic charm.