An ominous and foreboding quality -- a sense of menace -- lingers in the background of Ursula Meier’s Home. Some reviews have interpreted the film as blackly comic or satirical, but there is little humorous about it. Instead, apocalypse seems to be ever-present on the horizon, and Meier’s approach involves bringing the terrors of that tumult into the middle of a French family, and making it palpable for the audience. The movie is difficult to pinpoint at first -- perhaps because it resists genre classification as a comedy or a traditional drama -- but it ultimately recalls such predecessors as Todd Haynes’ Safe (1995), Henry Bean’s Noise (2007), and -- if you stretch it -- Lynne Littman’s 1983 nuclear holocaust drama, Testament. Like those earlier films, Home weaves the tale of ordinary people at the mercy of a social threat far greater than themselves, and one seemingly unstoppable, that may eventually rip them to pieces.
The unnamed family in question, though, is far from a traditional lot. Eccentrics and proud of it, they live miles outside the reach of contemporary society, in picturesque French fields alongside a completely abandoned highway -- so abandoned that not a single car has passed for years. They’ve essentially turned their home and the surrounding territory (including the asphalt, which they use for street hockey) into a kind of isolated utopia. The conflict surfaces when a French administrative body authorizes the use of the road for public transportation -- which sends dozens of construction workers and eventually thousands of cars whizzing by, and generates such deafening noise that it threatens to drive the family into collective madness.
One of Meier’s mistakes involves her failure to answer certain questions about the clan in question -- notably how they ever arrived in this odd locale, and what the father does for regular income. These and other basic narrative details need to be filled in for the remainder of the story to succeed as well as it potentially could. Moreover, it was probably not the best choice to begin with a family so removed from mainstream ethics and lifestyles that we have trouble relating to them to begin with; for instance, they react so casually to full-frontal nudity that the fully developed teenage daughter takes baths with her preadolescent brother and the mother and father scarcely bat an eyelash. The fact that we begin with people who already seem to march to the beat of their own drum lessens the horror of what eventually transpires; it would be far scarier (comparatively speaking) to see a conventional French family from a rural environment assaulted by the onslaught of Gallic car culture.
What does make the movie work, to a degree, is the sense of love that binds these family members together -- they obviously share deep-rooted emotional and experiential bonds with one another, a quality evident from the opening sequences. That sense does contrast neatly with the horrors that befall the family when chaos sets in, simply because the constant barrage of noise begins to cause fractions and schisms between the parents and children that are painful to watch. Meier paints the descent into distraught behavior in fully credible, gradual strokes, so that it creeps up on us as coolly and unassumingly as it does to the family -- and she never lets them fall into unbridled madness, which keeps the onscreen behavior relatable.
Meier seems to be working not merely beyond the confines of genre here, but beyond the confines of traditional character establishment and development -- she doesn’t want to tell the stories of these individuals, she wants to make an allegorical statement about the depersonalization and inherent madness of contemporary European society, with its technological (and mechanical) overload, its depersonalized, lightning pace, and its social compartmentalization. To a surprising extent, this succeeds. The film may be eccentric and flawed, but it is never, even for a second, boring. And it does deliver a powerful blow to our day-to-day conventions by reminding the audience of life’s greatest priorities, and the external elements that may seep in and threaten to obfuscate them.
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