Saturday, May 19, 2007
BELGIAN CINEMA—Nue Propriété (Private Property)
What is so painful to watch in Joachim Lafosse's Nue Propriété (Private Property) is a woman's heart being converted into privatized property, which the men in her life (ex-husband, sons, lover) feel entitled to. That sense of unquestioned masculine entitlement proves infuriating and, ultimately, tragic for all parties involved.
Right off, you know something is wrong with the family scenario. The twin boys François and Thierry (real-life brothers Yannick and Jérémie Renier) seem too grown up to be living at home with their mother Pascale (the incandescent Isabelle Huppert). She works all day, feeds them, and irons their clothes while they play video games and stuff their faces watching television. Their age likewise makes uncomfortable a familiarity they have with their mother's privacy, not only when she tries on new lingerie in front of a mirror but—more shockingly—when Thierry assesses her nudity in the shower. Something is not quite right. Some boundary is not being set, let alone enforced. The scenario is charged through and through with a hazardous and self-serving infantilism. These young men do not want to grow up and become responsible in an adult world, their mother is incapable of setting boundaries, and their father thinks that all that's necessary is an ample and timely allowance.
By the time François and Thierry are shown bathing together and giving each other shampoos, you might as well spell arrested development with a capital "A" and a capital "D"—and, though Ed Gonzalez's chastizing Slant rant that only "pervs" would find anything erotic in the bath tub scene seems downright miserly—he's on to something in specifying that the scene is "justified" even if the behavior is not.
In what Variety's Jay Weissberg describes as a flawlessly calibrated performance, Huppert plays a woman who is "on the one hand yearning for an empty nest and on the other incapable of standing up for herself." She dreams of selling her house and investing in a new life by opening up a B&B with her lover Jan (Kris Cuppens), but the mere suggestion of her dreamt-of autonomy triggers a chain reaction of inappropriate behavior from her sons. François clings to her and suggests she take him with her to help out at the B&B and Thierry asserts the house and whatever money their father supplies is for the twins and not for her. Each family meal becomes a battlefield of glossed-over resentments and rising tension that is effectively gripping and nervewracking. Jérémie Renier has rapidly become the arrogant goodlooking guy you love to hate in the character of Thierry, whose selfish amorality is reminiscent of the role he played in L'Enfant; a comparison made again and again by critics and reviewers alike. I swear if I see him on the street I will spit at his shoes for selling babies and treating his mother so callously.
All of the performances in Private Property are solid and sound; but, I'm in complete agreement with Eye Weekly's Adam Nayan who offers that "the strongest presence in the film actually belongs to the director" whose static set-ups and long-take lensing mark an original approach towards depicting themes of psychological boundaries and physical confinement. Matt Riviera further reminds that the film's opening dedication reads "A nos limites...", setting up the understanding that "Private Property is indeed a film about boundaries, and what happens to people who have grown up without them."
"The only boundary not crossed," Jay Weissberg synopsizes, "is the one within the frame." Boyd van Hoeij equally extols Lafosse's camera work for European-Films.Net, where he compares the noteworthy "use of static imagery in which the camera does not move and the actors are thus confined inside the picture plane as if trapped, something which makes perfect sense thematically here" with "the Dardennes' trademark handheld camerawork, even if cinematographer Hichame Alaouie collaborated on both films (he was an assistant on L'enfant)."
That's why the film's bipartite coda is so impressive. First the parents are shown picking up shards of broken glass as if they have each finally accepted responsibility for picking up the broken shards of a marriage that has damaged their children. Dennis Schwartz interprets this as "a note of guarded optimism that the family can pick up the pieces from the wreckage and find a way to move forward without injuring each other further." Yet within a few moments of that seemingly resolute scene, Lafosse—in a final flourish of camera movement—breaks from the tightly-held frame he has untilized throughout the film to suddenly course away from the house down the road, which Boyd van Hoeij describes as "a literal and symbolic escape from the confines of the titular property."
07/31/07 UPDATE: Dennis Harvey weighs in on the film for SF360.