Monday, May 4, 2009

SFIFF52 Day 12: Home

The 52nd San Francisco International Film Festival is in its final few days; it runs through Thursday, May 7th. Each day during the festival I'm posting about one film I've seen or am hotly anticipating.


playing: 6:00 PM tonight at the Kabuki, with no more showtimes later in the festival.
festival premiere: Cannes 2008
distributor: None that I'm aware of in this country. Do buyers think this is too hot for American arthouses and DVD subscription queues to handle?

Festival films can be intense. Many of them in succession can border on grueling. After a week and a half of watching serious-issue documentaries, grim fairy tales, men in trouble, women in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and youth gone wild, you might be looking for a chance to breathe, to watch something light and airy. Why aren't they playing that doc on A Chorus Line again? I skipped it on day 4, not realizing I might need a dose of musical comedy to fortify me through the rest of the festival.

Truthfully, a dark film can be like a burst of light if it's made with the evident care and precision of a master. I'm up for seeing one of those at any point in my festival fatigue. For me, Home fit the bill. It's hard to believe that its director, Swiss-born Ursula Meier, had never made a feature before, so confident is its unity of content and form, so complicated its shooting must have been.

Home is a genre-defying film shot on an abandoned stretch of Bulgarian tarmac. One scene evoked an unlikely connection to another SFIFF52 title, Zift, even before the director revealed the site's true location in the q-and-a. It could really be anywhere. A family has fled urban living to establish a free-spirited life in a house mere feet off the shoulder of the highway. We're introduced to them first in a manic night hockey game shot (by cinematographer Agnes Godard) very tightly on the actors. It's the consistency of their character arcs that holds the film together throughout drastic changes in their setting and in tone; sometimes it feels like a comedy, other times drama, action thriller, or even horror.

The prepubescent son is the only one in the family who appears to have an interest in exploring their countryside surroundings. His older sisters are like day and night; one is the only member of the family to knock before entering the communal bathroom, and the other spends her days sunbathing on the front lawn, smoking and getting ogled by the garbage man while listening to The Young Gods. Dad, played by Olvier Gourmet, is more of a jazzbo, always trying to turn the moment into an opportunity for play. The family's den mother is the hardest to pin down of the pack; Isabelle Huppert plays her as a sympathetic enigma.

They experience a massive upheaval when they suddenly must co-exist with a brand-new stream of traffic due to the re-opening of the road. The near-constant presence of speeding cars presents challenges that few families would be prepared to face, but this one does, taking their lifestyle adaptations to their logical conclusion. I don't really want to give away more plot information than that, but I do want to reiterate that it's all shot and edited with impressive acuity, especially considering the logistical challenges that must have been faced with a fleet of 90-kph vehicles racing by the set and actors for much of the shooting.

Reportedly one critic said that Home was "made by someone who loves John Ford but has seen too many Bergman movies." This quote (which I haven't been able to google up; must have been on television) gets at the ways the film is packed with both psychological truth and with overarching, metaphorical meaning. How it's crafted in an almost classical style, on a large canvas, yet feels much like an intimate character study presented in three distinct acts. But I'm biased; I loved the film from beginning to end. For a well-expressed dissenting view of the direction Home takes in its final act, be sure to check Benito Vergara out.

SFIFF52 Day 12
Another option: For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism (USA: Gerald Peary, 2009) A documentary that's surely gonna be not too depressing: it's about the state of film criticism in this country. Sf360 link. Wait, did I just say "not too depressing"?
Non-SFIFF-option for today: the Wild Child (FRANCE: François Truffaut, 1970) at the Red Vic. The first Truffaut I ever saw, nearly twenty years ago, and I haven't rewatched it in the intervening decades. But I do remember it making a big impression on me back then.

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