Germain (Fabrice Luchini), married to Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), is a high school French teacher who seems to have lost all of his enthusiasm for teaching literature and reading uninspired papers. One day as he is grading papers, he comes across one that clearly stands out from the rest due to its unique style. The paper, written by Claude (Ernst Umhauer), is about the family of one of his classmates named Raphael (Bastien Ughetto), and about what happens in Raphael’s house. Labeled “chapter 1”, the paper becomes the beginning of something dangerous for all involved, but particularly for Germain.
From storytelling to the relation between literature and cinema, from middle class family criticism through coming of age story to inter-genre juggling – In The House attempts to achieve much at once; and it pulls it all off but, more importantly, it distinguishes itself with what it says about the act of watching/peeping and, at the same time, it offers the audience some food for thought. Especially Claude’s growing curiosity about the Artole family and their house creates a vortex around watching/identifying by juxtaposing Germain’s obsession with Claude’s story, and this vortex, overflowing from the screen, absorbs and carries away the audience. As Germain and Jeanne talk about Claude and the second chapter of his story, it is obvious that Germain has already been impressed by Claude. And the similarity between Claude and Germain is quite predictable: Germain, as a student, always sat in the last row just as Claude does. As he explains it: You can see everyone while nobody can see you. Germain also intends to watch the Artole family from this position. However, as the film proceeds he has to leave this position and participate.
Watching from the last row, where the gaze does not return to the viewer, is like a meditation when one loses the sense of self, just like when watching a movie. You are somehow there but do not reflect back from the screen. In the theatre, when it darkens and the movie begins, there is the thing that you are watching and there is you who transcends your body. Christian Metz labels this state ‘primary cinematic identification’, described as follows: the spectator identifies with himself, with himself as a pure act of perception (as wakefulness, alertness): as the condition of possibility of the perceived and hence as a kind of transcendental subject, which comes before every there is. (1)