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Reviewed By John Stakes
Ten years ago the extension to Route E57 through open countryside was near to completion when Martha, her husband and three children took up occupation of a detached (abandoned?) house on the very edge of the motorway after work came to a halt. For them their rural location was idyllic and the silent motorway setting became a giant playground around which their largely enjoyable family life was lived to the full.
However, no film starring Isabelle Huppert, ( described as French cinema’s “most beloved psychopath” ), could possibly continue as a happy go lucky popcorn movie and, soon after the film began, the tarmac lorry teams were moving in, depicted as a hostile and alien force. Serenity and stillness were replaced with the omnipresent sights and sounds of snarling screaming motorway traffic.
The consequences for Martha and her family were both distressing and predictable. From initially having to live only with their own sounds, the family was forced to beat a retreat into their home in a vain attempt to escape the motorway’s insidious daytime cacophony. When earplugs and other methods to stifle sound failed, Martha’s husband was driven to breeze-blocking windows and doors, giving the outward impression that the house had been abandoned and repossessed.
In their claustrophobic, darkened prison of a house the remainder of the family (elder self-obsessed late-teenage daughter Judith having wandered off) quickly disintegrated, each succumbing in ways entirely within character. Huppert was the last to crack as her tearstained sunken eyes became increasingly haunted, but it was thanks to her last gasp effort with a sledgehammer which enabled them all finally to break out and walk away.
Meier’s achievement as first time director was notable. She coaxed exceptional performances from all the cast, particularly the children. The sometimes intimate family scenes were highly naturalistic, counterpointed by Meier’s manipulation of various genres (inspired by Truffaut and Hitchcock) which perhaps reflected her own culturally diverse European background. These gave the film a growing, disturbing, surreal feel with undertones of Polansky’s “Repulsion” as the family’s coping mechanisms failed and the magnitude of their plight enveloped them. Meier’s debt to Hitchock’s “The Birds” was reflected in her handling of the gradual accumulation of vehicles following the opening of the motorway and her camera positioning and editing maintained the film’s unsettling effect.
This road movie in reverse was greatly appreciated by a near capacity audience. Meier’s next film currently in production will centre on the boy Kacey Kelin who here played son Julian and if Meier merely maintains her potential the film will be eagerly awaited.
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