Ursula Meier’s debut feature Home tells the story of an insular and unconventional family who live in a house by a disused motorway. Meier wanted to create ‘a road movie in reverse’ (the tagline of the film) by reflecting not the passenger’s gaze but the point of view of the people standing by the roadside.
When the motorway reopens, this kooky, sexually liberated, left-field family’s days of cavorting around semi-naked in front of each other are numbered. They have previously treated the road as an extension of their home, somewhere for the kids to play, for the teenage Judith to sunbathe, and for mum Marthe (Isabelle Huppert) to fit in a ride on her son’s scooter in between the chaos of domestic chores - all of which are undertaken with the style and poise that seem to come so effortlessly to the French (in cinema, at least).
Madness slowly takes hold as the noise and pollution of passing traffic inhibits the household’s daily routine. Dad Michel (Olivier Gourmet) is angry and territorial, while Julien daubs fresh white paint from the road across his face in a gesture of defiance. Marthe can’t hang out her washing anymore for the sound of truck drivers blasting their horns at a half-naked Judith, who persists in sunbathing in a bikini by the busy road. Practical middle child Marion, the scholar of the family, is worried about the effect of carbon monoxide on the family’s health, and defies her mother by refusing to wear a swimsuit that flatters her burgeoning figure.
The family decide to brick in the windows and sweat out the summer inside their house. Marthe, until now the devoted mother, puts her needs above the rest of the family by insisting they stay on no matter how bad it gets. Here is the only place she can be truly happy, even if the entire family suffers as a result. This seems contradictory: until this point, much has been made of her maternal bond with the children, especially with her young son Julien. But when the ultimate breakdown occurs and Michel threatens to leave with the children, Marthe is prepared to stay on alone in the dark, hot house; still more baffling is her lack of concern when Judith goes missing later in the film.
Meier intended to create ‘a sort of immobile expedition - an inner voyage, a mental journey’, yet Marthe’s breakdown amounts to nothing more than mindless pacing around a messy house full of dirty dinner plates. Marthe’s is a flattering, camera-friendly brand of madness, and luckily her ability to match this season’s floral prints with an edgy pair of heeled ankle boots seems to be entirely uncompromised by her mental demise. This type of superficiality permeates Home, rendering Marthe’s change in attitude to her family nothing more than an irksome plot contrivance, and Meier’s intentions are ultimately undermined by the precedence of aesthetic ideals over substance.