Home is where the heart is
It doesn't matter how much Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet smile, play games, frolic and generally enjoy, love, their idyll dwelling surrounded by a doting family, you know by their sheer presence that the whole thing is doomed (if you're not sure what I'm talking about then just check their back catalogue, especially the films of Michel Haneke). The veneer here is Ursula Meier's (with her debut feature, if you discount a previous TV film) intriguing, bizarre yet engrossing fable on the intrusion of modern life from noise pollution, the rat race and the go faster, faster, faster mentality of present day living. It seems that no matter where you go, to what ends you take the modern world will find you, engulf you, surround you and ultimately you either join it or let it swallow you up.
Living next to an abandoned motorway, a folly of a project some 10 years earlier that now stretches on for miles, closed to all traffic either end, Marthe (Huppert), Martin (Gourmet) and their three children Judith (Adelaode Leroux), Marion (Madeleine Budd) and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) may as well live on the surface of the moon for such as the isolation of their present day lives. As the film begins we join the family playing street hockey on the empty stretch, the tone is jocular, this is a happy united family unit, their lives are as they have strived them to be, the accumulation of planning and dreams. Their possessions, an armchair, a paddling pool, a sunbed, lay strewn out on the road for this is their land (I particularly love the idea of a satellite dish being attached to a crash barrier); one government's abandoned project is another man's ideal home so it seems.
Yet, unsurprisingly, this ideal does not last for long and the happiness the family once bathed in; the solitude and peace, the irony of the children having to walk to another road to get the school bus for instance, is quickly taken away when the government announces the road, albeit belatedly, finally open. Meier ratchets up the tension, effectively contrasting from child, Julien who views the whole thing as some sort of adventure to that of his parent's point of view about the oncoming construction team slowly making their way down the motorway, tarring the road as the go, emotionless, detached, removing their possessions from the road and putting the crash barrier back in place, sealing them off from their own land. The slow intrusion abates, white lines mark the road, the territory is no longer theirs as they stare hopelessly on the horizon as the hordes embark to pollute and populate their once golden garden.
Those horizons and landscapes are caught mesmerisingly by Agnes Godard (Claire Denis' go to cinematographer for films such as Beau travail and 35 Shots of Rum) and adds to give scope to the world we find ourselves in; the sense of another space, detached from the trappings of modern life yet surrounded in its familiar furnishings; I never knew the beauty of an empty endless motorway before Home. A flickering, belligerent, hope that the road will not open slowly evaporates as vehicles start to teem down the motorway, at first in dribs and drabs before finally an onslaught, a cacophony crashes into their lives and uproots everything they held dear. Godard's vistas, once empty and pristine, now populate whizzing cars, lorries and buses; in one captivating scene the traffic comes to a standstill and the ensuing masses populate their family life as they disembark their vehicles; a literal invasion. To escape the constant gaze of their invaders the family decide 'to go out' and Godard captures the true horror of their lives as they cross the jammed road, through the masses and the traffic as they try to find some semblance of before.
The invasion takes it's toll and the modern world traps our family, the tiny cracks in their domestic bliss manifest and fester, uncovering what lay beneath; heightened by the surreal circumstances they now find themselves in and ending in a desperate bid to keep the family together, away from the hordes. There is a distinct call of 'join us, join us' at the heart of Home, a call to conformity and Judith the eldest daughter, prone to doing her own thing for so long throughout, such as sunbathing by the open road whilst the cars race by, soon tires of being the outsider before succumbing, leaving the family unit to mingle with the 'progressive world.' The viewer is not asked to judge her decision, or that of those that stay behind, more acknowledge its existence and the limited choices we face as a society when it comes to branching out on our own. For what other choice do our family have? They found paradise albeit temporarily, only for it to be taken from them by progress and the machine, nature can only hold out so long before succumbing to the world of tomorrow.
Delishously surreal and exuding in confidence, Home is a bit of a treat for those looking for something different in our increasingly homogenised film landscape. Director, Ursula Meier, is another great hope looming on the horizon for both French and World cinema, expect her name to keep cropping up in the years to come.
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