In Ursula Meier’s stunning theatrical debut HOME (the official Swiss submission for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film), a family’s peaceful existence is threatened when a busy highway is opened right next to their isolated property. When the five members of the central family find their remote domestic paradise invaded by the reopening of the abandoned highway adjacent to their house, they resort to increasingly lunatic measures to block out the noise—it’s but a small step from earplugs to bricking up their house entirely.
Michel (Olivier Gourmet) and his wife Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) are nonconformists who have consciously chosen to live as far away from others as possible. They have a house in the French countryside alongside a highway that has been left uncompleted for ten years. they live in a comfortable small home in the middle of vast fields and next to the highway, which hasn’t been used for 10 years. So much is the road their turf that the story begins with them playing a family game of street hockey on its pavement.Their kids have chosen different ways of adapting to their lifestyle: Judith (Adelaide Leroux) puts on a bikini, turns on loud music, and sunbathes; Marion (Madeleine Budd) does mathematical games to keep herself amused; and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) rides his bike on the highway and loves his little pool.
One day, unexpectedly, construction workers appear on the scene and start laying down tar and lines down the center of the highway. Then big trucks arrive to lay down a fresh coating of asphalt, and steel guardrails are installed on each side and down the middle. Workmen wordlessly clear the highway of their hockey sticks, inflatable swimming pool, satellite dish, charcoal grill and so on. On the radio, they hear breathless coverage of the road’s grand opening, and eventually the first car speeds past their house.On the day of its opening, a radio announcer celebrates how much easier this will make life for drivers. So begins the nightmare for this closely bonded family used to privacy and the silence of the natural world.
The opening scenes of Home—a nighttime game of street hockey, a bathing session that turns into a five-way splash fight—establish the anarchic sense of play that defines the interactions of the film’s central family, while the casual nudity on display hints at the vaguely incestuous tensions in this uniquely insular clan. The rest of Ursula Meier’s confident, appealingly bizarre theatrical debut subjects these tensions to the hothouse environment of a self-willed isolation.
The opening of the highway was not a surprise for them. But the heavy, unceasing traffic is a big problem. The two younger kids always ran across the bare pavement to cut through a field for school. Dad parked on the other side. Now even getting to the house is a problem. Marion the smart younger sister (Madeleine Budd) is concerned about carbon dioxide poisoning. Young Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) can’t safely get to his pals. Judith (Adelaide Leroux) continues to sunbathe in the front yard and gives the finger to honking truck drivers.
Marthe is the one most seriously deranged by the noise pollution of trucks and cars whizzing by at all hours of the day and night. She can’t sleep and quickly becomes very irritable. Judith gets angry at the intruders but tries to shut them out with her music. She eventually runs away from home, fed up with this new development. Marion focuses on the problem of pollution and starts worrying about the toxic effect of all the cars and trucks on their bodies. She tries to scare Julien by checking his back for signs of poisoning. Michel purchases insulation for the house and then barricades the place shut with concrete bricks. It works for a while by blocking out the noise but they all suffer from claustrophobia.
Home is written and directed by Ursula Meier, and it is a very clever and creative film with its probes on family solidarity, change, the toxic residues of a car culture, and the physical, psychological and spiritual effects of noise pollution. In an idyllic scene, Marthe, Marion, and Julien escape the din and retreat to the countryside where they spend a quiet afternoon sleeping and sitting under a tree. In another, Michel unsuccessfully tries to drag his family from their home and force them to move. They refuse.
There are two questions never answered in the French film “Home.” How did this family come to live here? And why does the mother fiercely refuse to leave, even after a four-lane freeway opens in her front yard? Both are more satisfactory remaining as questions. Meier effectively communicates the sense of upended privacy, moving easily from the nighttime intrusion of brightly clad construction workers (the eye-straining oranges and yellows of their uniforms registering as a truly alien presence) to the incongruous sight of Isabelle Huppert tending her garden as blurry streaks of traffic zip by.
Ursula Meier (born 24 June 1971) is a French-Swiss film director who received the Best Director award at the 2008 Festival du Film Francophone d’Angoulême [Angoulême French-Language Film Festival] for her first theatrical feature, Home, which won the 2009 Swiss Film Prize for Bester Spielfilm [Best Film] as well as Bestes Drehbuch [Best Screenplay] (shared with Antoine Jaccoud). It also received France’s César nomination for Meilleur Premier Film [Best First Film] and a Best Film nomination at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Film Festival.
DIR Ursula Meier
PROD Denis Delcampe, Denis Freyd, Thierry Spicher, Elena Tatti
SCR Ursula Meier, Alice Winocour, Antoine Jaccoud, Olivier Lorelle
DP Agnès Godard
CAST Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adélaïde Leroux, Madeleine Budd, Kacey Mottet Klein
ED François Gédigier, Nelly Quettier, Susana Rossberg
PROD DES Ivan Niclass
SOUND Étienne Curchod