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Isabelle Huppert, left, & Adélaïde Laroux in HOME (Photo: Jérome Prébois/Lorber Films)

Directed by Ursula Meier

Produced by
Denis Delcampe, Denis Freyd, Thierry Spicher & Elena Tatti   
Written by Meier, Antoine Jaccoud, Olivier Lorelle, Gilles Taurand, Raphaëlle Valbrune & Alice Winocour
Released by Lorber Films
French with English subtitles
USA. 91 min. Not Rated
Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adélaïde Leroux, Madeleine Budd & Kacey Mottet Klein 

The saying, there’s no place like home, takes on complex layers of meaning in Ursula Meier’s Home. It convincingly eases on down the road from an intimate family portrait to a disturbing environmental-disaster fable.

At first, it seems to be just another beautiful day in the neighborhood for this warm, loving family. So they do their morning toilette together (family nudity warning), but hey, they’re European. The father, Michel (Olivier Gourmet), goes off to work, taking Marion (Madeleine Budd), a precocious tweener, and rambunctious son Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) off to school before the summer vacation. The older, naturally rebellious teen daughter, Judith (a pouty Adélaïde Leroux), lounges around all day outside in a bikini listening to blasting punk music, while mother Marthe does the household chores. That she is played by Isabelle Huppert (with her rich repertoire of making high-strung women on the edge seem perfectly normal) is not the only clue that something is askew—the family’s homestead abuts an abandoned, unfinished highway.

It’s not unknown to see these vestiges of such expensive projects left unfinished, but it becomes clear that the family sought out this isolated lacuna to calm the mother’s sensitive nerves—and they seem willing to go to any lengths to accomodate her. Within their bubble, they have settled into a comfortable daily routine until the orange uniformed construction workers advance down that highway, with a tense score to match.

Step by step, the warning signs arrive that somebody’s tax dollars are being put to work, and step by step, the family seems to be able to adapt to their environment, sometimes with creative, even fun, changes in their routine, and sometimes with excruciating risk. When the highway is completed, there is still the potential for coexistence as cars gradually invade their space like an encroaching alien menace. But as the days go by, the increasing number of vehicles becomes an onslaught.

The suspense becomes nerve wracking as to just how far the family will go to stay in place. Even as they take extreme measures to burrow in to combat the traffic noise, litter, and pollution, their health, sanity, and family cohesion are shaken and irreparably disrupted. (The film recalls the Cold War panic of Rod Serling’s classic Twilight Zone episode “The Shelter.”) It climaxes during the summer holiday season, when vacationers end up sitting in an endless traffic jam on the new highway outside the family’s door, a scene that looks much like that long tracking shot in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967).

Representing Switzerland’s entry for this year’s Foreign Language Film Academy Award, Meier, in her debut feature, collaborated with a team experienced in making films about outsiders, including co-writers Olivier Lorelle (Days of Glory) and Gilles Taurand, who has worked with André Téchiné. Cinematographer Agnès Godard, who has given distinctive looks to the films of Téchiné and Claire Denis, was awarded France’s Cesar for best cinematography for this film.

Despite the absurdist touches, the spare realism is a critical factor in the film’s harrowing credibility that has more depth than most apocalypses, from Dr. Seuss‘s environmental jeremiad The Lorax to special effects-laden thrillers. Home exhaustingly succeeds as a human drama by zeroing in on the psychological impact on the nuclear family when internal obsessions collide with outside pressures. As Walt Kelly’s Pogo might say about this film, with a French accent: “We have met ze enemy, and he is us.  Nora Lee Mandel
November 27, 2009



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