Home, the directorial debut from young French-Swiss hopeful Ursula Meier, is a film about communal captivity, the disenfranchisement of an archetypal family unit and, in many ways, it’s the ‘road movie’ of directionless modernity.
This César nominated drama follows a dysfunctional family who live beside an abandoned motorway, somewhere in-between two French cities. Although the house is an uninspired concrete block, their surrounding landscape is rather bucolic in stature, with the kids using the roadway as a garden to sunbathe, take a dip in the blow-up pool, or play street hockey across it’s straight, uninspired grey surface. Although we never get the conclusive hows and whys of their unconventional living situation, it’s implied that it was a decision of desperation on behalf of the agoraphobic, stay-at-home mother Marthe (the enchanting Isabelle Huppert). When her doting husband Michel (Olivier Gourmet) returns home from work one evening to break the news that the road project is going to reconvene, he is in distress and determined that the family should leave immediately. Marthe is less intimidated, resolute on staying in the unlikely place she has made into an idyllic family home. With cars soon filling the motorway day and night, the risk of pollution causes friction to emanate from within the family, and soon their paradise retreat turns into a tarmacked prison.
Devised by a four piece writing team, including Meier and fellow upcoming European auteur Olivier Lorelle (Days of Glory), it’s perhaps no wonder how every character in the family is fleshed out. All play an integral role in the group dynamic, how it will soon be tested and, to an extent, shattered. The suffocating mother Marthe who is afraid she’ll lose her family to the outside world, the stoic rock father Michel, the typically angsty eldest daughter, the indifferent and paranoid middle child Marion (Madeleine Budd), and, most sympathetically, the young, curious and adventure seeking son Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein). The cast are all pulling their weight here, particularly Haneke’s muse Huppert, in an atypically austere maternal role, matched with Dardenne Brothers’ regular Olivier Gourmet as a compassionate father reaching the end of his tether.
As the family’s proximate relationship intensifies, the eco-parable is verified, and the drone of cars whizzing past their kitchen window becomes unbearable, Meier resorts to feverish melodrama, with a life-threatening consequence. Cinematographer Agnès Godard manages to make the transition from warm open landscape to claustrophobic crazy pretty aimlessly, but the drastic shift in narrative tone removes any sympathy we once had for the barmy quintet, replacing it with utmost frustration. Why can’t they leave? What’s so special about the house? Not only implausible, the stir-crazy psychological torment in Home’s witching hour ends up compromising what would otherwise be an astoundingly accomplished feature debut.