★★★ / ★★★★
A family, led by Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) and Michel (Olivier Gourmet), has lived in a house alongside an abandoned highway for more than a decade. Throughout the years, they have learned to adapt, from being a good distance away from the nearest town to not having neighbors living within the area. With their three kids, Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), Marion (Madeleine Budd), and Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein), they have no choice but to become a very close family. But when road workers start to appear with their trucks, Marthe and Michel suspect that their lifestyle is about to undergo a significant change.
“Home,” directed by Ursula Meier, almost works as a strange chamber drama even though a lot of the scenes are shot outdoors. Even though the kids and the parents are able to run on fields during pretend play and soak up fresh air, their existence feels claustrophobic because it is rare that we get a chance to see them interact with the outside world. The closest we ever get to seeing something foreign are the cars that pass by once the freeway is open to the public. Even then the cars whizz by like bullets and they provide little personal interaction with the family.
Once the road becomes functional, it takes a negative toll on the psychology of the family. The matriarch is not equipped to handle the noise. She cannot sleep at night so she begins to exhibit bizarre behavior. In one of the scenes, she tries to suffocate her husband with a pillow because the noises from the highway are too much for her to bear.
Marion suggests that maybe her mother should get a job so she can step outside of the house once in a while. Marthe’s initial response, when one takes the time to look into her eyes after hearing her daughter speak, is fear. Then she hides, conveniently, in what is expected of a mother. A mere suggestion gives her an excuse to overcompensate when it comes to caring for the household–cleaning, cooking, and washing clothes–and providing emotional support when father is at work.
Meanwhile, Judith becomes rebellious, apathetic to people’s stares as she sunbathes on the lawn every day–for several hours at a time–while the radio blasts rock music. Marion becomes obsessive when it comes to the way the vehicles end up polluting their home-grown food. She is convinced that the red spots that have suddenly appeared on their bodies are signs of lead poisoning. Energetic Julien has to deal with containment. Because of the high speed cars, he is no longer allowed to ride his bike down the road. It is akin to watching a caged animal slowly wither because it was so accustomed to being free.
The father, on the other hand, is more disturbed with how his family is responding to the situation rather than the opening of the road itself. In that way, he represents us. He recognizes that the shift in equilibrium does not elicit a normal response.
As the tension turns unbearable in and around the house, the film’s tone touches upon some horror elements due to the family’s aberrant behaviors–and it works. “Home” is a different and even a challenging experience at times because it is not about presenting a conventional plot or following a typical story arc. It is about behavioral changes dependent on stimuli, an experiment taking place under a glass dome.
White Material (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Maria (Isabelle Huppert) was in charge of the Vial coffee plantation which was owned by her father-in-law (Michel Subor). Civil war and racial tension intensified outside of the plantation but Maria was convinced that she and her family, her ex-husband named André (Christopher Lambert) and her son named Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), would be safe within property lines. But when desperation was in the air, all rules were thrown out the window. Directed by Claire Denis, I didn’t warm up to “White Material” right away. I was initially confused with what was happening because the story started without providing a historical background. However, over time, I realized it didn’t need to because it really was more about how the Vial family responding to the chaos that threatened their very lives. The moment it got my attention was when two boys decided that they were going to murder Manuel as he closed his eyes while floating on water. Tension was extremely high during that scene because I cared about both parties. Their political beliefs didn’t matter to me. I cared about the possible murderer because they were just children. They may have thought they knew what they were doing but children’s minds are highly influenced by external factors. Propaganda was everywhere. Hate speech was on the radio, they gathered information from their peers, and it was possible that they had no parents to help them discern right from wrong. As for Manuel, late twenty-something, I cared about him, too. He might have been a tattooed slacker who never lent a hand in the plantation but he didn’t deserve to be hunted like an animal. What happened to him after the incident was devastating yet it was an excellent commentary about the political turmoil that Maria so desperately tried to ignore. Huppert was wonderful as a woman in utter denial. There was no doubt that I wanted to shake her, even slap her multiple times, to make her see that her actions were downright ill-advised. I understood that she loved the land and she considered Africa, not France, as her home. After all, Africa was where she gave birth and raised her son–she loved him completely, almost painfully, even though she didn’t exactly think he would turn out as someone who would let himself go. Huppert infused the right amount of pride, arrogance, and strength in her character. Her performance was restrained but the way she changed her body movements and facial expressions during crucial scenes made a lot of lasting impact on me. Her capacity for making mistakes was what made her relatable. Ambiguous, challenging but fascinating, “White Material” need not be admired but it certainly deserved to be talked about.