When a Franco-Belgian film begins with the dedication “To our boundaries,” you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally walked into a Harpo Productions symposium. It’s not a culture especially known for celebrations of the dramas of gifted children or 12-stepping, which makes the epigraph all the more alarming.
Clearly director-cowriter Joachim Lafosse means to critique through excess, yet he’s not the first to equate the nuclear family with nuclear fission. Nor has he approached the subject the most imaginatively. Pascale (Huppert), a divorced middle-aged matriarch, shares a claustrophobic, quasi-incestuous house with her twin late-teenage sons, college student Thierry (L’Enfant’s Jrmie Renier) and obsessive home-restorer Franois (Yannick Renier, Jrmie’s real-life older brother). Pascale pees and showers in front of the boys, who like to share a bath when they’re not punching each other or humiliating maman. Like the quick-fix logic of most self-help books, Private Property comes off as overdetermined—even if the operatic blowouts will seem painfully familiar to anyone who’s ever been an adolescent and had a mother. Catastrophe is quickly followed by resolution; Huppert, who’s had her share of sicko-family dynamics onscreen, here seems worn out by the histrionics required of her. Sometimes the path of excess leads not to the tower of wisdom, but to exhaustion. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.)—Melissa Anderson