As Marthe (Isabelle Huppert), her husband Michel (Olivier Gourmet) and their three children improvise a game of hockey on the Tarmac outside their isolated house by the side of an unused motorway, a portrait emerges of a happy, functional if unconventional French family. But after ten years of silent limbo, the first cars and lorries begin to rumble by, scuppering plans for Michel’s swimming pool, and blocking not only reception to Marthe’s beloved radio stations, but access to work, school and shops. The first signal of disintegration is the disappearance of their eldest daughter Judith (Adélaïde Leroux), whose bikini-clad roadside sunbathing had presumably proved sufficient advertisement for her wanderlust and availability. As temperatures rise and the holidays loom, physical stresses on ‘normal’ life become psychological cracks: Michel takes to breeze-blocking windows in a desperate effort to insulate the house from the noise, pollution and disruption to their lives.
Offering intriguing echoes of the dystopian visions of JG Ballard (‘Crash’) and the acerbic, anarchic satires of Jean-Luc Godard (‘Weekend’) and Claude Faraldo (‘Themroc’), debut French director Ursula Meier’s intended fable works best in the quietly surreal and gently farcical first half, where both the well-judged, undemonstrative performances and Agnès Godard’s patiently observational camera build a sufficiently absorbing portrait of idiosyncratic family ritual and individualised relationships. The sudden gear change into neurosis and incipient madness, however, comes as a badly handled shock, loosening our interest in character and proffering, instead, mere metaphorical readings – about the effects of change, possibly, or modernity? We’re unprepared for this vague and obscure detour. That said, it’s a first film of laudable ambition and Meier’s directorial confidence suggests promise for the future.