Home stars Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet as a happily married couple playing house in the middle of nowhere. They raise their three children in a home at the edge of an unfinished rural highway. Their remove from other people appears to be total. Gourmet tools off to work each day in a wobbly old car but brings no news of the outside world — not that his brood asks for any. The family seems content and at times even jubilant in isolation, but there’s something slightly off about their interactions. Their closely-knit dynamics seem as provisional and artificial as those more mainstream households from which they’ve evidently escaped.
Or have they? One of the most interesting things about Home is how reluctant it is to explain exactly what these people are doing; the exposition is parceled out so judiciously that we question the film’s relationship to reality as much as the characters’. The narrative, such as it is, is catalyzed by the sudden completion of the highway, which leads to their backroads Eden being invaded by all manner of honking, monstrous vehicles. The family’s responses to this incursion are played initially for a kind of deadpan comedy, but the tone quickly veers towards the apocalyptic once it’s clear that the characters can abide neither the noise nor the presence of other people.
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Home, the theatrical debut of director Ursula Meier, would make a nifty double bill with Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf (2003), and not only because it retains the services of such formidable performers as Huppert and Gourmet. Whereas Haneke’s characteristically down-in-the-mouth drama imagines a world where human decency has eroded in the absence of civilized society, Meier’s elegantly measured comedy flips the equation: modern civilization itself becomes a slowly encroaching menace.
There’s a fairly obvious theme here about contamination, and yet Home isn’t easily tossed off as a thesis film. For one thing, the actors inhabit their roles in a way that takes them beyond types. For Huppert, there’s a line to be drawn through her work here and in Claire Denis‘ White Material (2009): in both films she plays women who steadfastly refuse to abandon the homes they’ve worked to build even when it’s clear they no longer belong. There’s also a specificity to the cinematography by the ever-brilliant Agnes Godard, which clearly inscribes the house and the surrounding areas as a metaphorical space while also lavishing attention on small, tactile bits of domestic detritus — an oddly installed satellite dish and a forlorn charcoal grill. It’s the attention to such small details that keeps this prickly, peculiar film from getting too conceptual for its own good.
Adam Nayman is a film critic for Eye Weekly in Toronto. He is also a regular contributor to Cinema Scope.
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