ND/NF: Home is where the highway is in Ursula Meier’s quirky family drama
In an emblematic scene in Home, Ursula Meier’s first feature film, Marthe (the mother, played by Isabelle Huppert) wants to give snacks to two of her children, Julien and Marion, who stand across the newly-constructed highway from her after arriving home from school. With the encouragement of her children she decides to pitch the bag of food over the highway. The bag lands on the edge of the road and they erupt in cheer. Just as Julien tries to make a grab for it a car suddenly runs over the bag in a small burst of cheese and bread, much to everyone’s surprise. This scene highlights the warm love shared between the family, especially from the mother, as well as their unique, spontaneous approach to problem solving (that warrants a laugh and a cheer). At the same time, however, there is a rather dark quality to it in the way destruction can come suddenly — the obstacle of the highway is at first a comic problem, but it very quickly becomes a life-threatening one. This dichotomy of humor and dark drama comes to define Meier’s film, a subtle mix of emotional tones that is at once exhilarating and unnerving.
The story focuses on the drama that unfurls within a family when a highway is built right next to their house, blocking their normal route to the outside world (school, work) and making their daily routines a huge challenge. The family’s resolve to stay despite the highway and the noise, danger, and chaos it causes has them adapt in small and drastic ways: Marion, the bookish middle child, wears homemade hazmat suits to deal with the toxic emissions; they cement the walls and windows to reduce the noise. As the tensions within the family caused by the highway start to escalate the humor starts to fade and absurdism sets in, threatening to destroy the once happy-go-lucky family.
The central question Meier seems to be asking is: “What constitutes a home?” At first it is the house itself, the location (the middle of nowhere?) that allows the family freedom. As the house becomes destroyed, however, it becomes clear that home is something else (love? family? sanity?), though Meier never makes that something else explicit. Ultimately, Home forces us to ask: What are those things which keep us together, that make us feel secure, and (most importantly) what do we do when a highway is built right on top of them?