Sunday, August 1, 2010

Home. (2009) Ursula Meier

Addiction, alcoholism, adultery, unemployment -- these are some of the things we think of when pondering how families get torn apart. In Ursula Meier's Home, it is a freeway being built in the front yard.

A family with ten years of peace next to a patch of road that seems to have been forgotten deals with all the elements of a highway project being finished -- construction, then traffic, with emissions, and worst of all noise. When the highway opens, there is an unbearable, omni-present noise they're not used to, not only heard inside the house but felt in the rumble of constant tires echoing as felt vibrations in the floorboards and dinner plates. A parallel story forms in which the highway's noisiness is a reflection of a family that has lost its peace with each other.

Enter the "reverse road movie." It's a weird concept, and a strange little film, but french star Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher,
I Heart Huckabees) and Olivier Gourmet (The Son) combine with three young actors as their children to pull off some memorable scenes about a shut-in mom and family who support her, but they are slowly losing their grip when an unseen force brings havoc to their front door.

With cinematography by Agnès Godard, who lenses too many films to mention (always wonderfully visual), the house at first stands out against an abstract, natural background. There are no other homes, just endless nature -- fields and sky, birds and trees. The opening of the freeway interrupts this setting, and they need to figure out whether or not they continue with normal life on their property. Moving isn't an option when you love and live with your mom, and though it is never explained we can only assume she's a sort of a shut-in. The one great thing she needs to do is the one thing it seems she can't -- get the hell out of dodge. She's a good woman, though they are definitely another strange film family (not as strange as the recent family I described in Dogtooth, but nevertheless strange), and we hope for her like we hope for one in recovery to break through some barriers and leave the home with her family. Huppert is characteristically wonderful, and her scenes with Gourmet and the children are entrancing.

After writing the script, director Meier had to find a landscape with a half-built road, build a house next to it, progress with the narrative in turning the road into a highway, and bring hundreds of cars and trucks and extras to drive the road in front of the home. She found a small landing strip in Bulgaria, and they set off and made the film there. Outdoor scenes are an open-air shoot, and indoors, especially toward the end when the family actually begins to shut themselves fully in with mom, there's tense contrast between the open feel outside and the closed-in family falling apart inside the house.

I can't believe they went to Bulgaria to make the film. I think that is so cool.

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