A surrealistic look at a family thrown onto the chopping block of modern technology
If you have ever hated cars and all they stand for this movie will be the physical embodiment of your deepest angst. The disgust with the smell, noise and simple aesthetic vacuity of ordinary vehicles is matched only by the universal nature of their existence. They are the things we hate the most to be around and yet the things we use more than anything else, at least in the Western world. Like a toxic substance barely within the control of the user cars threaten to drive us even as we drive them. They are responsible for a good part of our global environmental destruction as well as a good part of the destruction of our bank accounts.
This year’s Swiss nominee for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, “Home” examines a situation not unlike a modern chemical plant explosion in a populated area, or perhaps a toxic spill of dioxin into the air upstream of your home. The situation is the sudden occurrence of a major freeway outside the rural home of a well adjusted family of five. The freeway was always there since the day they moved in. But for years it was never connected to anything. It was part of an unfinished construction project that appeared as though it might never be finished. But one day the trucks arrive to clear the family’s plastic swimming pool and lawn chairs off the highway. The paving trucks follow and then like the trickle of water from the small hole in the dike the first car zooms by. In a few hours the family is living next to a filthy din of staring, honking, polluting and trash throwing drivers that could be effectively used to replace water boarding at Git’mo.
The fight for survival is on.
Lean and tight casts provide the audience with the best inside look into bizarre human behavior. Viewers who have had the pleasure seeing past performances by the legendary Isabelle Huppert will not be surprised by the depth and intensity she brings to this film. She is the most nominated of all actresses for the French Cesar (the runner up is not even close), won twice at Cannes (“The Piano Teacher” and Violette) and has countless other awards to her credit. Even knowing this many viewers will be amazed at the ferocity with which her character, the mother Marthe, reacts to the public pummeling the family receives from their new transitory neighbors. Her husband Olivier Gourmet (Cannes Best Actor for “The Son” 2002) internalizes the crisis while Marthe externalizes it. Their three children Judith (Adelaide Leroux), Marion (Madelein Budd) and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) react in completely different ways. But in the final analysis one thing is clear; there is no avoiding it.
The unraveling of the family unit makes one of the most strikingly shocking story lines in all of the film genres. There is something sacred about the family, something we persist in thinking can not be overcome. This is part of the power of a film such as the Stanley Kubrick / Stephen King / Jack Nicholson classic “The Shining”; the story of a family in an isolated circumstance that begins to change as a result of their environment. In “Shining” the environmental change is supernatural. In this film the environmental change is even more terrifying because it is some so completely ordinary. As a result we have the powerful focus on each of the five family members who comprise the entire cast combined with this terrible turn-about. The car, otherwise known as the servant of mankind, turns into a beast threatening the sanity and the lives of the humans it is supposed to serve. Hitchcock didn’t do it any better in “The Birds.”
The family goes through the five stages of grief in trying to at first hide from the noise and invasion of privacy and eventually resorting to the fall-out shelter mentality that washed across America at the height of the cold war. In spite of all efforts there is no escaping the fact that we occupants f the planet earth have made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. If we wake up in the morning metamorphosed into a Kafka-esque beetle we have nobody to blame but ourselves. As the Eagles said, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
Great supporting work by the three children: Leroux, Budd and Klein, in acting out the details of the squirming quest for life under the thumb of the machine. This is coupled with the commendable resourcefulness on the part of film maker Meier in searching the far corners of Europe for a place where she could find the suitable desolate little house and unused stretch of highway for the set (the stretch of highway was found in Bulgaria, the small house built on the site).
Powerful performances and great directing make this a great film.
Directed by: Ursula Meier
Written by: Ursula Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Raphaelle Valbrune, Gilles Taurand, and Olivier Winocour
Starring: Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet
Release: November 27, 2009
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 97 minutes