French director François Ozon’s 13th feature-length film In The House pays tribute to the timeless appeal of the thriller genre. Set in the intimate confines of middle-class French suburbia, the film is based on Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy In The Last Row, and shows the once enfant terrible of French cinema in a more mature repose.

Driving the film’s suspense and narrative movement is the teacher-student relationship between disenchanted high school teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer), a fresh-faced sixteen-year-old student. Claude first catches Germain’s attention with a satirical piece on his classmate’s bourgeois family, The Holy Family. Curious and impressed by the precocious talent on his hands, Germain seeks to foster Claude’s talent by encouraging him to write more.

Beginning as a critical observer, Claude ingratiates himself into the family’s dynamic, exploiting their inevitable disappointments. He soon discovers, however, that the bourgeois home possesses many allures –none more alluring than the singular scent of the middle-class woman. He falls in love with the dejected Esther Artole (Emmanuelle Seigner), the Madame Bovary-like housewife, and brings a suspenseful intimacy to Ozon’s screen world – an intimacy that’s deflated by the all-road-lead-to-this ending.

In a film marked by robust performances, Umhauer stands out; the actor possesses a Machiavellian innocence that is both sincere and unnerving. Luchini’s performance is also noteworthy – he embodies Ozon’s playfulness as a director. During an homage to Woody Allen, one of the film’s most delightful moments, Luchini’s harsh criticisms expose In The House’s meta-cinematic irony.

Possibly Ozon’s most accomplished film yet, In The House carries the risible tension of a thriller while relishing in the voyeuristic melodrama’s blurring of art and life that we are complicit in as cinema viewers.

4/5 stars

BY LARRY LAI

In The House opens in cinemas on Thursday June 27.

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