Tag Archives: Family

CAPSULE: HOME (2008)

DIRECTED BY: Ursula Meier

FEATURING: , Olivier Gourmet, Madeleine Budd, Kacey Mottet Klein, Adélaïde Leroux

PLOT:  The idyllic existence of an isolated family is shattered by the re-opening of an abandoned highway that runs through their front yard.

Still from Home (2008)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Despite the absurd rot at its core, Home is structurally sound; but it’s too low-key and lacking in zing to be counted among the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS:  There’s not much plot to Home—a highway opens in a family’s front yard, the fumes and endless noise bug them, and they eventually put cinder blocks and cement over their windows to keep the outside world out. The idea could have packed a compact wallop in a short; but here, there’s ninety minutes to fill up. Promising first time director Ursula Meier saturates the empty spaces with acting; thankfully, she has Isabelle Huppert and a pro cast on her side. Home will work best for those who find the carefully observed intimate details of other people’s family lives fascinating, but the leisurely pacing will make this thin allegory something of a grind for others. Early scenes establish the bucolic Eden that’s about to be paved over: the family plays hockey in the abandoned highway, watches TV on a couch outdoors, and bathes together. (Meier makes a major point of the family’s unselfconscious, unsexual nudity; Huppert is the only one in the film who keeps her clothes on). External pressure on the happy family arrives when the highway reopens (allowing Meier the opportunity for a nicely absurd parody of the “incredibly specific news broadcast” movie cliché: the only radio station the family receives focuses exclusively and obsessively on the new thoroughfare, tracking the progress of the first motorist as if he were a national celebrity). Amusingly, at first the brood attempts to go about its normal routines despite the intrusion of the motorway; college-age Judith continues her full-time bikini sunbathing career (to the delight of passing truckers), and the two younger kids dodge cars as they cross the highway on their way to school each morning. Eventually the pressure starts to get to the family unit; the incessant freeway noise causes sleepless nights, and fatalistic middle child Marion takes to wearing a homemade gas mask and filling her younger brother’s head with tales of how the gasoline fumes will stunt his growth. Father Michel (Gourmet) reasonably suggests relocation, but mother Marthe (Huppert) digs in to preserve the homestead. Under stress the family’s behavior takes a turn for the bizarre (especially Mom’s). When they decide to wall up the house, the heat inside becomes stifling and the air stale; they spend most of their time sleeping, lacking the strength to do more. The film’s symbolism is open-ended, which can be a very good thing, but which works better when coupled with a stronger narrative. Critics seem to be focusing on the happy pastoral family vs. poisonous industrial society theme and the environmentalist subtext, but there’s also a metaphor about growing up at work here. At each stage of the story, the tone reflects one of the three children’s perceptions of family life. At first there is a childish innocence and fun to the home, with nothing of too much importance existing outside it. The outside world (represented by the highway) begins to encroach on the family sanctuary and penetrate its four walls, reflecting the anxiety and disillusionment of the early teen years. Finally, the home becomes a stifling prison run by madmen whose walls must be torn down in order to become an adult.

This Home is often confused with Home (2008), a mother-daughter cancer drama, and Home (2009), an environmental documentary narrated by Glenn Close. I have no theory to offer as to why the filmmakers gave their French language film shot in Bulgaria an English title.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…the engaging, darkly funny, surreal story of what happens when people who have thrived by keeping civilization at a safe distance suddenly find themselves pushed right back into its headlights… an absurdist pit stop on the order of ‘Bagdad Café,’ but with more edge and less charm.”–Janice Page, The Boston Globe (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: MIRRORMASK (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Dave McKean

FEATURING: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon

PLOT: A bratty teenager who works as a juggler in her parents’ circus is transported to a devious world of her own imagination after her mother falls ill.  With the help of a cowardly juggler, she navigates a crumbling surrealistic city where everyone wears masks in search of a charm that will help bring her back to her own life.
Still from MirrorMask (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While Dave McKean’s impressively out-there creature and set design certainly gives MirrorMask some memorable visuals, the story and characters are lifted right out of typical fantasy stock, resulting in a beautiful but ultimately conventional movie.  366weirdmovies adds: I agree that MirrorMask shouldn’t go on the List; but, I will admit that when the androids popped out of their pods and gave the heroine a “bad girl” makeover while singing a weirdly harmonized version of the Carpenters’ “Close to You,” I was strongly tempted to nominate it as a Candidate.

COMMENTS: Popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman teamed up Dave McKean, the cover artist for his “Sandman” comics, delivering a script that revisits themes from his young adult book Coraline (which itself draws on archetypes found in The Wizard of Oz and “Alice in Wonderland“) for a movie that recalls the wild, inventive imagery of “Sandman” and his Neverwhere BBC miniseries.  MirrorMask is an allegorical adventure about a girl who grows up quickly, redeeming her past selfish actions through new-found respect for her parents and her own talents.  It’s a family film, and is at times bogged down by patronizing, simplistic dialogue and obvious symbolism, including a world literally divided by “Light” and “Shadow.”  There’s even a girl whose clear displays of “evilness” are fishnet stockings, cigarettes, and (gasp!) kissing a boy.

For all its narrative flaws, the film still charms with the help of a talented cast.  Stephanie Leonidas is excellent as Helena, effectively capturing the many moods of a teenage girl while still creating a sympathetic character.  Jason Barry works well with his chatty, comic-relief sidekick character, despite the inherent cliches in his personality.  But it’s Gina McKee in her triple role as Helena’s mother, the “Queen of Light”, and the “Queen of Darkness” who really Continue reading CAPSULE: MIRRORMASK (2005)

GUEST REVIEW: DOGTOOTH [KYNODONTAS] (2009)

UPDATE 2/16/2011: Dogtooth was placed on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time; the Certified Weird entry is here.

Imagine a world where up is down, hot is cold, red is black, dandelions are zombies and that mysterious slit between a young girl’s legs is called a keyboard.  Welcome to the bizarre world of Giorgos Lanthimos’ deep black comedy-cum-Greek tragedy oddity, Dogtooth.

Still from Dogtooth (2009)The strange story of a father who keeps his three adult children locked away on their country estate, allowing them no knowledge of the outside world other than what he and their mother (almost a prisoner herself) let them know—most of which is a twisted version of reality.  Never allowing the children (and though they all seem to be in their twenties, they are still very much children emotionally) to set foot outside of the family gate, the father tells them no one can venture outside the home except in the family car.  Only he ever does.  He drives his car ten feet past the gate to retrieve the son’s lost toy airplane.  Down on all fours and barking at unseen terrors lying in wait just outside of the family compound, these are not your normal cinematic children.  Though they live in what they perceive to be reality (and the only world they know) they could very well be living on another planet.

Essentially prisoners, these children are like experiments to the father (much like the dog training he is introduced to at one point in the story).  Each day they learn new words that have no correlation with what they actually mean in the outside world.  They are told that they can leave home only once their canine teeth fall out—a thing that of course we know does not happen without a bit of forceful persuasion.  At one point, the father begins bringing home a young woman he works with (blindfolded, of course) to have her engage in sexual relations with the son—a thing that is done without emotion, without fanfare and without any seeming pleasure on either end—only to have her betray his confidence by beginning to have a sexual relationship with the youngest daughter in exchange for presents.  Again, this is done without any semblance of emotion or passion; the daughter simply tells the girl if she licks her “there” (pointing to the obvious spot) she can have a gift.

Playing off Shyamalan’s The Village (though without the ridiculousness of that film) but done in a very matter-of-fact style typical of Greek cinema (or any Balkan cinema really) and especially of the nation’s cinematic icon Theo Angelopoulos, Lanthimos’ odd little movie reeks of possible exploitation, both in character and in style.  But, instead, it comes off as almost experimentation—as much as the father’s experimentation (i.e., the dog-like training) upon his unknowing children.  Yet, even with the passionless approach to characterization (including the most banal sex scenes ever filmed) we can feel the tremors begin beneath the surface, and we know that eventually there is going to be a deeply felt emotional explosion from at least one of these children.  Of course this emotional A-Bomb does eventually come (culminating in that aforementioned forceful persuasion) and we are left with a haunting final image that may be the inevitable conclusion to a psychologically dangerous tale such as Lanthimos’ bizarre Dogtooth.

This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.