Private Property

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Domestic relations are reduced to a matter of Euros and cents in Joachim Lafosse’s superb, barb-filled Belgian chamber drama. Pascale (Isabelle Huppert) dotes over her lackadaisical twin sons Thierry and François  (real life brothers Jérémie and  Yannick Renier) in a grand old farmhouse left to them by her meddling ex-husband.

Pascale’s desire to sell the property and, essentially, disband the family is met with utter contempt, especially from Thierry who reminds her forcefully that it’s not her house to sell. Shades of early Polanski, specifically ‘Knife in the Water’, permeate a succession of thrillingly bitchy dinner table scenes, where insults are flung back and forth and the advantage changes hands at a dizzying rate. By the second half, the reticent François becomes the key bargaining chip, with much of Thierry’s bitterness stemming from the fact that his brother is clearly edging towards his mother’s cause.

Lafosse’s directorial hand is as steady as they come. The rhythm of his scenes, not to mention the subtly symbolic positioning of the camera, works wonders in releasing the coiled feelings of resentment to the screen as the feud quietly spirals out of control. His handling of emotion – when it is contained and when it bursts out – also adds to the intricacy, shored up by some beautifully textured performances, including that of Huppert in particular.

Though Pascale is on shaky ground financially and her ultra-liberal parenting may be somewhat to blame for her sons’ insurgency, it’s clear that Lafosse is on her side, making this a somewhat twisted paean to the invaluable ‘occupation’ of motherhood, and an almost Marxian admonishment of material possession.

Release details

Release date: Friday May 18 2007
Duration: 89 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Joachim Lafosse
Cast: Isabelle Huppert
Jérémie Renier
Yannick Renier
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