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(2009) *** 1/2 Pg-13
98 min. Kino International. Director: Ursula Meier. Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet, Adelaide Leroux.

/content/films/3828/1.jpgDid you ever wonder about those houses situated directly adjacent to a freeway, who lives in them, and how they can stand the rattle and hum? So did Ursula Meier. Living on the road takes on a new meaning in Home, Meier's impressive debut feature. The director has referred to her film as "a reverse road movie," but one could also say it's something close to a photo negative of The Shining: a family cracking up and facing mortal danger not in eerie quiet and isolation but at the prospect of losing them.

At first, the family in Home is deliriously happy. They've adapted to rural isolation and apparently sought it out for a reason that's more implied than spelled out. Fragile mother Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) needs her quiet, but ten years of empty threats to open a highway route directly in front of the family home have finally come home to roost. Till now, the family has enjoyed the blacktop as an extension of their front lawn, a place for street hockey and sunning. The news that the road will be finished and opened deeply unsettles father Michel (Olivier Gourmet), but Marthe has no intention of moving. The family has invested in this place, which has provided a necessary if delicate balance for Marthe's psyche and therefore the family unit. When the highway thunders into operation, boy Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein), teen Marion (Madeleine Budd) and young adult Judith (Adélaïde Leroux) feel the effects. One becomes a distressing hypochondriac, one secretly hatches escape plans, and the other responds poorly to the emotional claustrophobia of the family under pressure.

The father, for his part, is literally claustrophobic, but he overcomes his fear for what he believes to be a greater value: sealing off the home (with cinder blocks) to keep out incessant noise pollution. Though Meier and co-screenwriters Antoine Jaccoud & Raphaëlle Valbrune with Gilles Taurand & Olivier Lorelle wisely resist a heavy hand, the metaphors are clear enough. This is a family threatened by society, and when they can no longer avoid it, quiet desperation rapidly becomes suffocation. Meier skillfully taunts us by stepping to the brink of melodrama as the family shows signs of homicidal and suicidal tendencies, but there's a keen sense of absurdism (and in Agnès Godard's brilliant photography a sort of surrealist realism, if there is such a thing) in the circumstances. Meier makes choices that work cumulatively: the slightly creepy neediness in the way the family members reach out and touch one another, the way the summer peels away the family's clothing so they seem so often bare (in at least one case defiantly), the apparent lack of family boundaries that at first seems appealing but eventually facilitates crazy-making.

The acting is superb: not surprisingly in the case of bona fide stars Gourmet and Huppert (the queen of internalized suffering bubbling to the surface), but certainly impressive in the younger actors, who sell the totally convincing family interactions so important to the film's success. Because Home is a French film (actually a Switzerland/France/Belgium co-production), it's also allowed to have a fascinating rhythm, clinched in the resolving use of Nina Simone's "Wild Is the Wind." Home is a darkly funny, haunting, and perhaps hopeful exploration of what happens when our maddeningly fast-moving world comes mockingly close to those paralyzed by life.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 7/27/2010

Distributor: Kino International

Kino gives Home a lovely hi-def transfer that accurately renders Agnès Godard's crack cinematography. Colors, including flesh tones, are spot-on; film grain and contrast retain the natural filmic look of the picture, and black level is good. Detail is excellent, and the source print is clean, making this a pleasing visual experience. Sound is equally important to Home, and Kino gives the picture the full lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 treatment; dialogue is never less than clear, there's immersive dynamism to the ambient freeway noise, and the music is full-bodied.

Kino also delivers some excellent bonus features, beginning with the atmospheric short film "'Sleepless' by Ursula Meier" (33:39, HD). It's an interesting point of comparison and contrast to the feature: they make similar use of setting to create a mood, but Meier has grown in the confidence to show more and tell less.

"Interview with Director and Cinematographer" (32:36, HD) is a very interesting sit-down with Ursula Meier and Agnès Godard, who discuss the inspiration for and development of the story, the logistical challenges of finding a location and staging a fake freeway, philosophical approaches to filmmaking, cinematic inspirations, and the film's themes.

You'll also find a Stills Gallery and Trailers for Home (1:42, HD) and Ajami (1:42, HD).

Home is the sort of project that tends to slip by American audiences until home video; now is the time to catch up with this fascinating film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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