Combustible Celluloid
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With: Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adélaïde Leroux, Madeleine Budd, Kacey Mottet Klein
Written by: Ursula Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Raphaëlle Valbrune, Gilles Taurand, Olivier Lorelle, Alice Winocour
Directed by: Ursula Meier
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 98
Date: 05/18/2008

Home (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

They Paved Paradise

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like a combination of Jacques Tati and J.G. Ballard, Ursula Meier's Home sets up an interesting conceit, in an interesting location, and uses them both to the extreme, trailing off into the only possible conclusion. It's a unique work of disturbing character poetry, though it may be a little too disturbing. It might have done with a dash more of Tati's deadpan remove.

Isabelle Huppert stars as Marthe, a stay-at-home mom of three kids. We first meet this brood while they play hockey together on some blacktop surface. It takes a few minutes before we realize that the blacktop surface is a patch of highway that is apparently unused, and stretches right by the family house. The family has become so comfortable with this item that they leave their toys and things scattered across its surface at night. The husband, Michel (Olivier Gourmet), even comes out to sit on the blacktop for his evening smoke.

Of course, it's not long before the authorities decide to put the long-dormant road into use, and soon traffic is whizzing by at dangerous speeds. The first obstacle comes when Michel realizes that he can't easily get from his parking space on the other side of the freeway to his front door. The older, sexy teenage daughter Judith (Adélaïde Leroux) tries to continue her sunbathing practices, but finds much unwanted attention from passerby, especially during a weekend traffic jam. The younger daughter Marion (Madeleine Budd) begins making fearsome calculations about how the pollution will kill them all. And the youngest boy Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) is merely fascinated by all of it.

Co-writer and director Ursula Meier begins to chronicle their temporary solutions to this problem, but the noise eventually starts to get to them, and sleep becomes more and more elusive. This causes a hallucinatory tone that grows deeper and more disturbing as the film goes on. It gets claustrophobic, and nearly stifling. The final shot, which is better seen than described, seems to have been the only possible answer; it's both freeing and numbing, much like the endless flow of traffic.

Meier manages to convey most of this with a certain degree of realism, which makes it slightly tougher to endure, but she is also open to some dreamlike imagery, as well as the possibility of horror. This is a very physical movie, keenly aware of the air and heat of summer, but if it was a satire of modern life, it could also have done with a bit of humor (certainly the staff of six writers, which outnumbered the cast, must have had a sense of humor). We didn't necessarily need a Jacques Tati laugh-fest, but at least something to make the ride a tad less stultifying.

Kino released the film on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2010. The DVD comes with a short film by Meier, an interview with the director and the celebrated cinematographer Agnes Godard (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum), a trailer, and a stills gallery.

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