Switzerland: Home, Ursula Meier

By Kathleen McInnis


Home is SwitzerlandŐs submission for the 2010 Oscar race. Starring Isabelle Huppert as Marthe and Olivier Gourmet as Michel, Home is intriguingly landscaped. Marthe, Michel and their three children live in an isolated house at the end of an unfinished highway. Happy as a family, even with the comic relief of their very sullen teenager Judith, it is the odd placement of their home that is immediately a distracting curiosity. What finally begins to unfold is the understanding that after 10 years, this highway is going to be finished, and the familyŐs peace about to be shattered.


What takes longer to establish is that, for reasons never revealed, Marthe canŐt leave the house. Her daughter, Marion, tracks the realities of the ever-increasing traffic just a few feet from their door—polluting exhaust fumes, lead poisoning, devastating insomnia, mental incapacity—sharing her findings with her impressionable younger brother, Julien.  Judith continues to sunbathe in her bikini on the front lawn, only a few feet from horny truckers and leering men. Michel fights to find ways to get supplies (and himself) from his car to the house now that all access is blocked by 50,000 speeding cars.


Bizarre moments of post-modern social commentary pop up in the film, images searing themselves into consciousness—Marthe charging across 4 lanes of stopped vacation traffic with kids in tow complete with pic-nic basket; the radio announcement regarding the first car to drive on the road; the delivery of a new freezer.


The entire cast, Huppert, Gourmet, AdŽla•de Leroux as Judith, Madeleine Budd as Marion, Kacey Mottet Klein as Julien, are superb. Huppert and Gourmet are effortless, crafting relationships and circumstances immediately recognizable while still desperate.


At issue, however, is although Director Ursula Meier is indeed successful in creating a new world for her audience to explore, implicit in a directorŐs invitation to that new landscape is the promise not to abandon the audience once there. For example, if I, the audience, suspend my disbelief for you, the filmmaker, I expect you to complete the tour.


Meier asks her audience to endure gaps in logic and to take at face value a stunning lack of common sense, all without offering any anchor for our understanding of the predicament. When the disastrous results of their situation put the family at grave risk, Meier sets in motion the classic arc of a Greek tragedy. Had the film ended there, as disturbing as it would have been, I would have predicted an Oscar nomination. Instead, Meier chose an ending that makes Home a perfect example of a contract broken between filmmaker and audience.


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