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Home (DVD Review)

2 Aug, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Kino Lorber
$29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet.

Smoothly situated in that spot somewhere between a plausible story surreally told and a surreal story told reasonably realistically, Switzerland’s submission for the most recent Oscars is another chapter in the career of its marvelously chameleonic lead Isabelle Huppert. A house is not a home — even set off dramatically via some unusually striking production design — without lots of stress on the part of householders like the one Huppert plays with conviction that always comes off as effortless.

The movie’s credible base emanates from something all of us have noted at one time or another: those households that manage to function even though they’re plunked right up against the highways our speeding cars zoom down — though perhaps not always as close as the one here. As long as there’s running water and a working satellite dish, life can go on.

The so-and-so clan (as far as I can tell, the characters aren’t given last names) is initially about as far away from everybody else’s everyday action as the family and ranch hands inhabiting Rock Hudson’s incomparably more grandiose spread in Giant. But there’ve been warnings for years that a four-lane highway may be coming through — though with bureaucracies being what they apparently are in the vicinity, the family’s husband, wife, daughters (one late-adolescent, one mid-adolescent) and son (all youngster) have continued to reside in their own world. This includes a bohemian lifestyle that wouldn’t fly in any Hollywood movie under the MPAA banner. The older sis (built) regularly takes baths with the kid brother — and smokes in the bathtub to boot. But everything’s cool — until the road pavers show up for the first time in years.

The rest of the movie deals with attempts to cope. Because the actual house and the space where dad parks his car are eventually bisected by the highway, the transportation choices are to cross the latter amid frenzied traffic or to crawl on hands and knees through a tiny tunnel (as the two younger siblings must do as well on the way to school) if he wants to go to work. And there’s more. The older daughter likes to sunbathe out front to boom-box punk, and now, suddenly, she’s getting approving honks. So, too, is Huppert’s mom when she hangs wash on the clothesline, which seems to brandish a disproportionate volume of brassieres. All of this takes a toll, leading to a solution that’s practical in a way but not likely to stand the test of time.

Brandishing “strong color values” (a term oft-utilized in trade magazine film reviews of my youth), the chaotic result comes to look something like a Jacques Tati comedy. Indeed, you can believe that two of Home’s three French Cesar nominations came for cinematography and production design — with frequent zoom-bys giving way to lots of bumper-to-bumper as Huppert gazes forlornly out the window. It’s kind of a rural correlative to what Robert Caro wrote in The Power Broker about urban planner Robert Moses’s construction of roads in and around New York City. That is, more roads just mean more traffic.

The movie’s visuals burn in the brain, and bonus features tell of how director/co-writer Ursula Meier’s debut feature was inspired — by, in fact, whipping down the freeway and noting oblivious adjacent residents enjoying life despite the noise and pollution. (Home’s studious younger daughter — no two-piece bathing suit for her — regularly charts the number of carcinogens or other creeping cruds the traffic brings.)

Through it all, Huppert’s performance is again peerless — another reliable turn from an actress who can play tragic figures, sociopaths and mothers who hang underwear on clotheslines. And every year, she looks as attractive as she did the year before, as we wait for the normal ravages of life to kick in the way they do for most people. But, you know, it’s now been 38 years since Cesar and Rosalie came out, and …

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