Home (2008) (Blu-ray)
Director Ursula Meier calls Home a “reverse road movie”. It’s an apt description. As in a typical road movie, the characters’ lives are governed by constant movement, but they aren’t the ones moving. Meier got the idea from an experience we’ve probably all had: driving on major highways past houses right next to the rushing traffic and wondering, “Who lives there?” Over several years, while she worked on projects for television, Meier developed a script with a series of writing partners. The result, Meier’s first feature, became Switzerland’s submission for the 2010 foreign language film Oscar (though it was not one of the five finalists).
Studio: Lorber Films (Kino Lorber, Inc.)
Film Length: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Disc Format: 1 50GB
Package: Keepcase inside cardboard slipcover (side-inserted)
Theatrical Release Date: May 18, 2008 (Cannes); Nov. 27, 2009 (U.S. limited)
Blu-ray Release Date: July 27, 2010
Somewhere in central France, the family of Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) and Michel (Olivier Gourmet) lead a relaxed, somewhat bohemian life in a shabby but comfortable house immediately next to a section of superhighway that was never completed. They’ve taken down the guard rails so that their front yard extends onto the cracked asphalt of the empty four lanes. Michel parks his car on the other side, where a dirt road leads to the nearest town, barely visible in the distance.
The two younger children, thirteen-year-old Marion (Madeleine Budd) and the youngest, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein), cross the highway every day to catch a school bus. The oldest, Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), spends her time idly working on her tan. Papa Michel works at a job that’s never specified, but from his uniform one surmises that it’s probably something like a gas station attendant. In his spare hours, he is gradually restoring the crumbling swimming pool that looks like it hasn’t been used in years.
To all appearances, this is a happy and loving family, although the children’s apparent isolation – only little Julien seems to have friends – and the communal bathing arrangements will strike many viewers, especially Americans, as distinctly odd. During the course of the film, it’s revealed that they’ve lived there for at least ten years.
But one day, trucks pull up and crews march out, clearing the road of all the family’s belongings and installing new guard rails. Other vehicles follow laying down fresh asphalt and painting white lines. Radio announcements confirm that this stretch of highway is finally being opened to traffic. Before long, vehicles are whizzing by in both directions. Most of Home is about the family’s varied and evolving reactions to this disruption in their lives. As the film’s title suggests, they have to decide whether this place can still be their home.
Julien’s initial response is boyishly enthusiastic. He smears tar all over himself (not realizing how difficult it will be to remove) and bets with his father on the color of the first car to pass the house. Mama Marthe begins with denial. This is the family home, and nothing need change. Then one day she’s hanging her laundry to dry on the front lawn and realizes that every passing motorist is staring at her lingerie – and takes it all down.
Michel, ever the practical one, devises increasingly elaborate strategies for moving people and provisions across the busy freeway, since everything has to come from the town on the other side. Marion, who is clearly the brightest of the children, becomes morbidly obsessed with pollution. Only Judith seems unaffected, as she continues tanning. But the traffic’s surge is relentless, and nothing can remain the same.
Home has a clear narrative arc, but it’s the kind of film where a viewer’s initial reaction, upon reaching the end, may well be, “What was that?” Director Meier has a different way of telling a story than we’re used to seeing. She does not provide moments of tidy exposition in which one character explains things to another so that the audience doesn’t have to figure it out for themselves. There is no point in Home where one member of the family says, “Don’t you remember why we moved here? We wanted – ” and all of it is spelled out in a neat narrative package. Instead, Meier puts us in the room with real people who would never have such conversations. They wouldn’t have to, because they already know these things. Indeed, as Home proceeds to its conclusion, the observant viewer will begin to notice that certain things cannot be said within this family (as is the case in many families), and that some of the most important understandings between husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, are those shared in silence.
Meier’s approach requires actors who can deliver naturalistic, un-self-conscious performances, and the cast of Home rises to the challenge. The role of Marthe was written for Isabelle Huppert, one of France’s greatest living actresses, with major credits for such directors as Claude Chabrol, François Ozon and Michael Haneke, as well as the occasional American film (e.g., I Heart Huckabees). She pulls off the difficult trick of making Marthe both mysterious and, at key moments, transparent. For Michel, Meier had originally wanted an American “method” actor, because she couldn’t think of a French actor who could supply what she needed. However, Olivier Gourmet, a Belgian who, like Huppert, appeared in Haneke’s The Time of the Wolf, is entirely convincing as an everday working man trying to take care of his family against odds that increase with every passing day. As the film progresses and the cumulative stress takes its toll, Gourmet lets you see Michel buckling under the strain without histrionics or fuss.
The three children were found through casting calls, and whether by talent, good directing or the examples of their senior colleagues, they inhabit their roles as if they’d grown up in that house. When the film reaches its conclusion, you may not immediately be able to explain why everyone ends up where they are, but all of it feels right.
Home is a visually striking film for which Blu-ray is ideal. (The film had very limited theatrical distribution here.) The 1.85:1 image is beautifully detailed, fully capturing cinematographer Agnès Godard’s striking compositions. Home was filmed in a real location, using an actual highway, real vehicles and a house built for the production. Godard’s framing vividly conveys the house’s isolation and separateness, even when traffic is racing past it. Blu-ray’s resolution is essential to impart the full impact of these images, and the film appears to have been transferred with care. The image is fine-grained, but the grain is never disturbing, and there does not appear to have been any DNR or inappropriate digital manipulation. Black levels are solid, and shadow detail is good in night scenes. Colors are varied but realistic.
Traffic is the prevailing effect on Home’s soundtrack, and it’s heard in multiple directions, at multiple volumes and from multiple angles. The track takes full advantage of the 5.1 soundfield to reproduce the family’s sensation of being assaulted by traffic noise at all hours of the day and night, including appropriate use of LFE when batteries of trucks rumble past. Dialogue is clearly reproduced, as is the unusual array of musical selections from classical to Nina Simone. (There is no original score.) The DTS lossless track reproduces the mix flawlessly.
Sleepless by Ursula Meier (SD; app. 1.66:1, centered) (33:39). This 1999 short film by director Meier focuses on two people, a young man and a young woman, who are reunited after a long time apart and whose relationship gradually emerges from their interaction, punctuated by flashbacks (or maybe they’re idealized memories) of childhood encounters. Aside from its intrinsic merit, it’s interesting as a study in Meier’s use of the “indirect” narrative techniques that she develops even further in Home. The video image for Sleepless is weak, noticeably noisy and lacking in detail. The sound is DD 2.0.
Interview with Director Ursula Meier and Cinematographer Agnès Godard (SD; enhanced for 16:9) (32:36). This is a solid interview that has more substance to it than many full-length DVD commentaries. Prompted by an off-camera interviewer, Meier discusses the origin of Home’s script and its development; casting; the lengthy search for a suitable location (ultimately found in Bulgaria); and various technical issues. Godard discusses the visual style that she and Meier developed for the film.
Stills. Nineteen production stills, all of them from the film.
Trailers. No trailers play at startup. The features menu includes the film’s trailer, which appears to be in standard definition; the source material is in poor condition, with a scratched image and even scratchier sound. Also included, in excellent quality and HD, is the trailer for the upcoming Kino release, the Israeli film Ajami.
Home is the kind of hard-to-market foreign language film that has largely been crowded out of arthouse cinemas by the specialty divisions of major studios. The best chance for seeing such films in a quality presentation is a well-produced Blu-ray from specialty operations like Lorber Films and Kino International (which have now merged). The Blu-ray of Home is an encouraging sign of things to come.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
SVS SB12-Plus sub
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