I have been lucky enough to see this gem of a film twice now, firstly at the London film festival back in October and now today at the preview (General release is the 29th March, I really wouldn’t miss it if I were you). I remember on my first viewing watching agog as the events unfurled in their elegant tapestry. I knew I had to see this film again. It’s been a long wait, but here we are.
The film centres around Claude (Ernst Umhauer), a young boy whose writing catches the eye of his professor (Fabrice Luchini) and is encouraged to continue writing his story. However this story is not entirely a fiction. We watch as both men fall close to the line of confusing fiction and reality. From what I’ve said so far it may surprise you that you could almost class this film as a black comedy. It is never outrightly ridiculous but it has a wicked wit so sharp as to be laugh out loud funny. Even through this it never loses its poignancy. Such is the chameleon nature of the film.
Once again a love letter to the very act of creation Dans La Maison strays seamlessly into every genre, depicting life in all its forms. The format can become confusing but after a while you realise that it is an existential question. Life is simultaneously a tragedy, a comedy, a farce and a melodrama; it just depends on who is watching. This is illustrated perfectly very early in the film. One scene is played twice, albeit it edited and filmed differently. It is tribute to the Ozon’s delicacy that these tiny changes in the style and action turn the tone from one of mild derision to outright vitriolic scorn.
The performance from Ernst Umhauer as Claude is astounding in this film, for a relative newcomer to hold a film of such weight on his shoulders requires a huge amount of talent. Umhauer’s performance is not only skilful but elegant and subtle. A tilt of the head, a certain intonation or look in the eyes and a scene is under his command, switching from heartwarming to sinister as the character commands. He steals scenes from many more accomplished actors throughout the film through sheer grace of expression. That is not to cast aspersions on the other performances in the film, Fabrice Luchini is excellent as the unwitting cause and eventual victim of Claude’s game. While his part seems almost a distraction, an interruption to Claude’s story he becomes more and more involved, more and more lost that eventually their stories become one.
Executed with a great technical flair, Dans La Maison is helped along by its soundtrack, a hook that repeats and varies over and over until you forget the original melody, everything in the film echoes itself. Art is a metaphor, the modern art scorned by the characters is in fact the comedy in which they live. The young boy reminds his wife of the old man. It becomes more a meta-narrative than anything else. The end leaves you questioning your own perception of the reality of the film as those you watch question theirs.