DIRECTED BY: Ursula Meier
FEATURING: Isabelle Huppert, 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.
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)