“Private Property,” new from Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, takes you into the familial thicket with a trio of warped, trapped souls and simultaneously unsettles and captivates you. Anyone seeking a challenging grown-up alternative to the summer blockbuster should seek out this under-the-radar but serious-voltage melodrama.
Peerless and fearless Isabelle Huppert plays Pascale, a middle-aged divorcée with a bitter ex-husband (Patrick Descamps), a chef boyfriend (Kris Kuppens), and an albatross that takes the form of her grown fraternal-twin sons, Thierry and Francois (Jeremie Renier and Yannick Renier, respectively). Selfish layabouts with whom Pascale shares a no-boundaries closeness, the boys unfairly blame their mother for their parents’ long-ago divorce and treat her with hostility.
When Pascale plans, finally, to leave the nest — by opening a bed-and-breakfast and selling the family’s Belgium farmhouse to fund the venture — her sons freak.
Small-scale and relatively low-key, the film doesn’t wallop you as its drama crescendos, and its denouement you might well predict. Lafosse’s screenplay, written with Francois Pirot, contains some frustratingly shallow symbolism.
Keep your expectations modest, however, and this film achieves mini-stunner status.
Visually, Lafosse’s static images create an impressive picture of characters stuck and stagnated. And while the sugar-free Lafosse, a la Michael Haneke, doesn’t reveal much humor on his palette, he generates unease effectively.
Lafosse also, displaying a bit of Bergman, perhaps, delivers a powerful portrayal of the domestic bond as an intense, infuriating tangle. Having established the feelings that underlie his characters’ destructive dynamics, he makes the family’s unraveling feel tragic.
As for Huppert, an actor who can simply lean back her head and convey a gold mine of reality, she suggests in Pascale a complex mix of apprehension, frustration, hurt and caring, earning viewer concern. If there’s one drawback to Lafosse’s unsentimental filmmaking, it is that its avoidance of the close-up robs this sensational actress of the chance to glow.
Private Property ***
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Jeremie Renier, Yannick Renier, Kris Cuppens
Written by Joachim Lafosse, Francois Pirot
Directed by Joachim Lafosse
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes