Beautiful and unsettling,
, a Swiss/French/Belgian co-production directed by Ursula Meier, is an environmental "horror" movie on par with Todd Hayne's
(1995), where a happy home is transformed into something much more nightmarish due to extreme outside environmental influences.
When I say use the word "horror," I'm not implying that
is scary, but it's a film rife with moments of dark humor and intense emotion that tackles a very real, very frightening subject in an allegorical manner. It's a hard one to pin down — an eco home invasion fable? a reverse road movie?— but I recommend
especially to fans of European cinema and admirers of the film's leading lady, the fabulous and fearless Isabelle Huppert. It's also worth seeing if you live near a freeway, airport, or other area filled with noise and air pollution, congestion, and the relentlessness of modern life.
I won’t go too far into plot details but here’s the gist of it: a family — mother (Huppert) father (Oliver Gourmet), two teenage daughters, and ten-year old son — live a happy, bohemian existence in a ramshackle house built alongside an abandoned highway somewhere in rural France. Then, literally overnight, the highway is reopened and the family’s peaceful existence is turned upside down.
The family adapts to the changes at first, providing for some comedic moments and striking visuals but then things start to go downhill as the indifferent eldest daughter disappears, the bookish middle daughter turns into an eco-paranoid basket case, the mother (who apparently has some existing mental health issues) completely looses it, and the father cracks under pressure from trying to hold the family together. Lost in the middle is the young son, wonderfully played by Kacey Mottet Klein.
Again, the film is heavily metaphorical so as the proceedings get more and more absurd (and harrowing) it helps to remember that however topical the environmental themes and raw the emotions of
are, the film is ultimately a surrealist one. Towards the end, I viewed the characters as animals (which essentially, they turn into) struggling to keep ahold of the one thing that they have left — shelter — as human development and environmental degradation completely devours them.
With striking cinematography by Agnès Godard and Huppert's tour de force performance (but then again, what performance from France's first lady of cinema isn't a tour de force one?),
has garnered acclaim on the European film festival and awards circuit and is Switzerland's official entry for the 2009 Academy Awards' Best Foreign Language Film category. Don't expect
to play at your local multiplex — it's opening in limited release this weekend — but it's worth a watch if you stumble upon it.
I happened to catch a screening of
smack dab in the middle of Times Square. After leaving a film that's essential about the perils of modernity, the impact of walking straight into an explosion of noise, flashing lights, and human traffic was absolutely jarring. A sense of unease — like I was a deer caught in the giant headlight that is NYC — stuck with me until I made it back to the one place that I truly feel safe: home.
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