Literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) finds himself playing voyeur when new pupil Claude (Ernst Umhauer) uses classroom assignments to recount his explorations of friend Rapha Artole’s home.
Claude’s pretext for being there is his mentoring of Rapha in maths, his real interest is the boy’s mother who he has an unquenchable lust for.
Initially Germain views the boy’s essays as harmless fun, by night using them as bedtime reading which he shares with wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), by day using them to teach Claude the art of story writing.
But as the teacher suggests ever more changes, he inadvertently starts to guide the boy’s actions, furthering his intrusions into the family’s privacy.
As the film progresses, Director François Ozon symbolises the enormity of their intrusions by moving Germain and Claude’s tutoring sessions from classroom to the Artole home where they observe the family’s inter-play, debate motives and suggest scene changes.
From the very beginning, Claude goads and manipulates his teacher, culminating in Germain stealing an exam paper to help ensure Claude’s continued access to the family’s home. Not since Ryan Phillippe’s Sebastian in Cruel Intentions has cinema seen such a manipulative school boy.
While Germain is a victim, he’s undoubtably a willing one who ignores all warning signs – including advice from Jeanne – that the boy and his essays are going to far.
Claude’s manipulation of his teacher is mirrored by Ozon’s script, adapted from Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy in the Last Row, which draws the audience in so deeply that they too find themselves willing Claude to go ever further in his clandestine explorations.
Like his junior protagonist, Ozon masterfully ensures his audience is too spellbound by their peak through the curtains to be repelled by the intrusion they’re part of.
With perhaps a nod to Super 8, he uses the film as a love letter to the art of writing, using Germain as a proxy to proclaim the importance of telling a story correctly.
In the House is a captivating and deeply compelling drama which wowed audiences at the 56th BFI London Film Festival.
Our verdict: 5/5
In selected cinemas, including Curzon Soho, from Friday 29 March