Nue Propriété

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Home Wars

Twins Thierry (Jérémie Renier) and François (Yannick Renier) play a video game.

The presence of Isabelle Huppert, revered in France as a great actress, gives Nue Propriété, by young Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, major credentials as a serious film, and serious it is – don’t expect any laughs from it, but do expect a subtle, realistic and moving psychological study of a family.

Pacale (Huppert) lives with her two nearly grown-up twin sons, Thierry (Jérémie Renier) and François (Yannick Renier), in a beautiful, isolated house in the country. She has been divorced from their father, who is remarried and has a baby, for 10 years, but is still nurturing a major grudge against him. She and the boys have what the French would call une rélation fusionelle: she routinely showers in front of them and leaves the door open when she pees, and they seem to take the place of both husband (advising her on how to dress, for example) and lover (providing affection).

Pascale has a secret from them, however: a boyfriend named Jan (Kris Cuppens). He wants her to sell the house so they can buy a bed-and-breakfast and start a new life together, reminding her that her boys will soon leave and start their own lives. When she tests the waters with her sons, hinting that she might sell the house (which has been paid for by her well-off ex), all hell breaks loose. All the anger Thierry has been repressing starts to surface, while the gentler François allies with his mother. The conflict brews silently, with occasional outbursts of resentment and anger, leading in the end to tragedy.

The details of ordinary daily life in this believable film are brilliantly and naturistically depicted – the pasta dinners en famille, the overflowing laundry basket, the TV set on a chair pulled up next to a bed so the boys can play video games on it. Everything revolves around the house, which the two boys see as their rightful heritage. It becomes a character in the film, almost a prison for the three main characters.

The two Reniers, brothers in real life, are faultless in their portrayal of twins who are so close and yet so different, but the big star Huppert’s acting style relies a bit too much on understatement and diffidence to be thoroughly convincing – she sometimes seems to be making a great effort not to express too much, when we wish she would express just a little bit more.

Like Huppert, the film leaves out a lot, both narratively and visually. We know Pascale has a job, but we never see her at work or even find out what she does. When a serious accident occurs, the camera stays on the distraught character who caused it and never shows us the victim.

But rather than detract from the film, these non-dits contribute to its spare, stick-to-the-essentials quality. It starts out in total silence as the titles roll and uses no music or sound effects, with one exception. When it arrives at the end, the music comes as a shock, expressing all the intense emotions and unspoken words the characters had been holding in throughout the film. Then silence again, all the heavier after the drama of the music, as the end titles roll.

The title comes from the legal term “nue-propriété,” which refers to the right to own a piece of property but not to enjoy its use or make money from it.

Heidi Ellison

© 2007 Paris Update

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