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Private Property (A Movie Review)


Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Yannick Renier, Kris Cuppens, Raphaelle Lubansu, Patrick Descamps, Didier de Neck, Dirk Tuypens and Sabine Riche.

Screenplay by Joachim Lafosse.

Directed by Joachim Lafosse.

Distributed by Red Envelope Entertainment and New Yorker Films. 89 minutes. Not Rated.

There is a dedication at the beginning of Private Property which reads "A nos limites," which translated simply means, "To our boundaries."

Then the film goes and shows us a family which has lost all of theirs.

Pascale (Isabelle Huppert) is an aging divorcee who lives in a rambling home in the Belgian countryside with her grown twin sons Thierry and François (Jérémie and Yannick Renier – who are brothers in real life, but not twins).

Though the boys are in their twenties they have no aspirations to leave. Why should they, they feel, with their mother to cook and clean for them? Why get a job when they can hang around the house, play video games and table tennis, watch TV, wrestle, work on the motorbike, fool around with a local girl and shoot rats at the local pond?

The three of them live in an oddly open manner. Pascale will shower or go to the bathroom in front of her children. The sons bathe together. The boys, particularly Thierry, who blames his mother for the parents’ divorce, snap at her more like a husband than a child. Thierry can be cruel, calling her a whore but always insisting he is just kidding.

While these things seem like them may be disturbing, there doesn't seem to be anything sexual or incestuous about any of these actions. They have just hit a point where all walls, even the necessary ones, have been torn down. It even seems that Pascale would like to return some propriety to the goings-on in the house, but she doesn't know how to return things to the way they were.

This highly toxic living condition gets even more polluted when Pascale starts dating a man and dreaming of escaping this life to open a bed & breakfast with him. Thierry is openly contemptuous towards the man – particularly when he finds that his mother is considering selling their home to make her dream a reality.

Not too much really happens in Private Property. It has a slow, deliberate pace like the lives that the characters lead. However, insult piles upon insult, indignity upon indignity, until finally the family reaches a tragic tipping point.

Huppert proves, once again, that she is the best actress in France. She can say more with silence or a tragically vacant stare than many actors could with a page of dialogue.

The Renier brothers also do a fine job – particularly Yannick as the son caught in the middle between his brother and mother, trying to keep the peace with everyone when there is none to be brokered. Jérémie's character of Thierry is more one-dimensional with his anger and selfishness, but still well played.

The movie ends on a rather ambiguous note. After the emotional explosion has finally happened the camera (and by extension the audience) literally picks up and leaves, backing out of the house, pulling down the driveway and driving away before we find out what exactly the outcome is.

This open-endedness works for the story however, in fact makes a certain elegant sense. It is like the writer/director Lafosse is finally restoring the privacy that these people lost so long ago.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: September 16, 2007.


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