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Originally published Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 3:02 PM

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‘In the House’: Truth and fiction mingle in François Ozon’s latest

François Ozon’s “In the House” is a sly comedy and tense thriller, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘In the House,’ with Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Ménochet, Bastien Ughetto. Written and directed by François Ozon, based on the play “The Boy in the Last Row” by Juan Mayorga. 105 minutes. Rated R for sexual content and language. In French with English subtitles. Seven Gables.

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At once sly comedy and tense thriller, François Ozon’s “In the House” is a story about storytelling; about what can happen when we get lost inside a life that isn’t ours. “Am I a fictional character?” someone demands, late in the film, as literature and life blur at the edges. It’s fiction about life that becomes fiction that might be life — and the viewer happily dives in.

The great, hollow-eyed Fabrice Luchini (“Intimate Strangers”) stars as Germain, a bored English teacher coasting toward retirement at the Lycee Gustave Flaubert. One day, his student Claude (Ernst Umhauer) hands in a paper in which he describes being in his friend Rapha’s house, seeing things not intended for a visitor’s eyes. Germain chastises him, but Claude continues to write about what he sees in the house: his attraction to Rapha’s mother (Emmanuelle Seigner), the troubles of Rapha’s father (Denis Menochet), the “middle-class” life of the family. Germain becomes fascinated — as does his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), reading over his shoulder. Worlds collide, truth mingles with writerly embellishment, and Germain starts popping up, in delicious Zelig-like fashion, in Claude’s stories.

It’s layer upon layer, and it’s a pleasure, particularly Scott Thomas’ gimlet-eyed Jeanne (upon first reading Claude’s paper, she’s ready to sort everyone out) and composer Philippe Rombi’s enticingly insistent score. At the end, we’re reminded that behind every window is a story — and that Claude will surely be peeking behind another curtain, on another day.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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