x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Home

Ursula Meier's debut is an impressive contribution to the European canon. Hers is an authentic, believable, vital new voice.


"The idea for Home came to me while driving in the car looking at what was beside the motorway. The houses were like stories passing on the other side of my car window. I wanted to change the perspective, to look at things from the other point of view, and to use fiction to discover and invent what people saw or had seen from their windows night and day. Home tells the story of obsessive characters, who go to the point of exhaustion, who plunge into madness. It is also a film situated at the limits of different kinds of film: the burlesque one, the suspense, the drama." No one could have better précised this beguiling debut - one of the real highlights from the Cinema Europa strand at this year's festival - than Ursula Meier, the Swiss-French writer-director at its helm. Though it could so easily have been summarised as: The family that bathes together stays together. A father (Olivier Gourmet), a mother (Isabelle Huppert) and their three children lead an oddball, insular existence on the edge of an empty motorway, built ten years ago, but so far disused. They laugh and joke and require only each other for company. They play hockey together on the otherwise deserted tarmac. The eldest daughter sunbathes in a barely-there bikini along the up-until-now needless crash barriers. A desert island way-of-life. It is the beginning of the summer and the motorway is finally about to be opened. The torpor of the season is so convincingly conveyed that you feel the swelter even in an air-conditioned cinema. The trucks come in the middle of the night to lay the surface tar; the camera fetishising the workmen's solid footwear as if they were wearing army-issue jackboots. The Manichean conceit is on-point, but Home's true attention is directed elsewhere. Literally "planted" beside the motorway, barely a few metres from exhaust fumes and the incessant rush of traffic - the polluting influence of the outside world - the family begins to swerve off-course, their delicate union irrevocably altered by their new, noisy neighbour. This is a road movie like no other. Just as the family can't escape from (or even onto) the motorway, the narrative of the road drives straight through their film, informing everything they do, everything they say, everything we see. We await the opening of the E57, just as the family does. We in our cinema seats; they in their sofa along the hard shoulder, playing a guessing game as to whether the first car to whoosh past will be red or green. (It's blue.) "If you build it, they will come" takes on a far more ominous reading here. Home begins as the slightest of black comedies, but descends into the subtlest of tragedies, as the family suffers a loss and barricades itself from the outside in. By the end, it is as if we have stumbled upon an apocalyptic, oxygen-less wasteland - as if the film and its inhabitants have been winded of their vitality, their air. The bright colours that once popped in Agnès Godard's superb, light-sensitive cinematography, have by now dimmed to something altogether gloomier. And you see it all, these changing fortunes, played out across the face of Isabelle Huppert; an actress of such sustained distinction that it really is futile to list how accomplished she is here - but I can't help myself, propelled, as I am, by sympathy for a character quite unlike anything else she's created. This is a very different kind of restrained, repressed Huppert performance: the scene in which we see her sitting at the kitchen table, camera panning around as she listens to radio phone-ins extolling the virtues of the new road, is a masterclass in slowly-dawning desperation. While it would be imprudent of me to disclose the final act, let me say one thing: it is breathgiving, soul-stirring stuff, set to the arpeggiated piano and haunting vocal of Nina Simone's Wild Is the Wind. I look forward to what follows from Meier. With Home, she has made an impressive contribution to the European canon. Hers is an authentic, believable, vital new voice that picks up what Jean-Luc Godard's Week-end began and Michael Haneke's The Seventh Continent left off.

afeshareki@thenational.ae