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Down That Long, Loathsome Highway

MOVIE REVIEW
Home (2008)

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Soda Pictures

Some of you may feel that you live in a noisy neighborhood, but the family at the center of "Home" has really got problems. Its charmingly chaotic abode is located in the French countryside with no other buildings in sight. But sadly, it is also positioned slap bang on the side of a freeway which cuts an asphalt scar through the endless expanse of verdant field. This does not prove too much of an issue at first as the road is disused, work on it being inexplicably abandoned some 10 years before.

The brood - mother, father, two daughters and a son - has spilled out beyond the boundaries of its four walls onto the deserted highway, littering it with domestic debris including toys, white goods and even a satellite dish. This liberal-minded clan is very close. The members hold family meetings in the bathroom while their teenage daughter takes her ablutions. On hot summer evenings – which are plentiful – they sit together on a sofa in the garden watching television like an alfresco Simpsons.

Then one day, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein), the son, reports a close encounter of the first kind with a truck some distance away. This proves to be the start of an invasion from the outside world. A fleet of construction vehicles arrive, announced by flashing lights and screeching warning sounds. Men in orange overalls set to work clearing the road of the scattered possessions and continue the much-delayed work on the highway. After some minor acts of resistance – leaving footprints in the wet tarmac for instance – the family members have to attune themselves to the fact that the road is finally about to be opened. They continue with their lives as best as they can, even when the traffic is hurtling past at the rate of 80 cars a minute. Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), the eldest daughter, continues with her busy daytime schedule, hours of sunbathing on the front "lawn" to a thrash metal soundtrack, much to the delight of the passing male drivers.

The local radio news hails the opening of the road as a minor miracle, treating the first driver to take the route like the Neil Armstrong of motoring. For the family, it is as if the entrance to hell has opened in the front yard. Just traversing the road is a regular dance with death, while the only alternative is going underneath through a dark and wet tunnel. Despite its united front, the constant danger, noise and pollution begin to wear the family down.

The younger daughter (Madeleine Budd) torments Julien with the potentially toxic effects that the traffic may be having on his developing body. Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) – once the floral-skirted embodiment of maternal protection and understanding – starts to snap at her children. It is her stubbornness that makes the family stay put, even after the father (Olivier Gourmet) has suggested that they abandon ship. It is papa who arrives upon a radical solution which takes the story down a more bizarre, far bleaker path.

"Home" is an imaginative and sinister debut from co-writer-director Ursula Meier, a domestic nightmare which will have any homeowner waking up in a cold sweat and blaming it all on a surfeit of Brie. The set-up creates a brilliant sense of isolation with the whole story taking place in one location. We see father drive off to work and the kids go to school, but we never go with them. No explanation of how these people ended up living in the middle of nowhere is ever given, and they have minimal communication with the outside world. The first-rate photography by Agnès Godard, who cut her cinematic teeth working with Wim Wenders and Peter Greenaway, helps to enhance the feeling of a family completely together yet very alone.

When the construction workers arrive, it feels like the collision of two different planets. Julien examines a tarmac rock as though it had fallen from the moon. In a standout scene the traffic is halted by an accident and the divers are forced to abandon the security of their cars and wander around looking hopelessly lost, like Spielberg E.T.s. There is even a supernatural abduction of sorts. The film moves from the intriguing to the amusing to the downright unnerving. One loses count of how many times one feared for the fate of the family’s cat. Felines and freeways are always a very bad mix.

One could read several deeper meanings into the film. It may well be a parable for the effects of globalization on the indigenous populations of the Earth, the way that Western civilization – in love with its own technology – willfully bulldozes its way through the world with scant regard for the consequences. It could be a simpler green warning of the effects that pollution and urbanization are wreaking upon the globe.

Perhaps the true meaning is less political and more primordial. "Home" could well be seen as a metaphor for the inevitable splintering of the sanctity of the family unit, caused by the arrival of exterior forces. Much is made of the growing self-awareness of the children as they start the journey into adulthood. The teenage daughter vanishes, but we later learn that she has run off with a man in a fast car. The younger daughter is also blossoming into womanhood and will no doubt succumb to similar urges as her elder sibling. The son obsesses over the changes in his body, which he feels to be wholly detrimental.

Meanwhile, the mother fights tooth and claw to keep her children close to her, even as the freeway tempts them away and the father accepts the truth of what must happen. In the end, it becomes a battle to keep the outside world away and protect the hearth and home even when that home has become, literally, suffocating to those who inhabit it.

HOME

Opens on Nov. 27 in New York and on Aug. 7 in Britain.

Directed by Ursula Meier; written by Ms. Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Raphaëlle Valbrune, Gilles Taurand and Olivier Lorelle; director of photography, Agnès Godard; edited by Susana Rossberg; produced by Elena Tatti, Thierry Spicher, Denis Freyd and Denis Delcampe; released by Lorber Films (United States) and Soda Pictures (Britain). In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. This film is not rated by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Isabelle Huppert (Marthe), Olivier Gourmet (Michel), Adélaïde LeRoux (Judith), Madeleine Budd (Marion) and Kacey Mottet Klein (Julien).

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