The New Female Vision: Ursula Meier on her acclaimed first feature HOME

The New Female Vision: Ursula Meier on her acclaimed first feature HOME
Ursula Meier

Ursula Meier

Home was a film we really wanted to include in our 2009 festival line-up, but alas, the timing wasn’t to be. It’s one of those rare films that feels completely unique – a fresh vision. It’s compared to the work of Lynch and Godard, but really this is a film unto itself. Meier’s script is completely original, and exceptionally brave, combining humour with an ever-darkening edge in a family world created as much by sound and costume as by dialogue. Superbly acted – starring the wonderful Isabelle Hupper and Olivier Gourmet – this really is a cinematic treat. Rachel Millward was delighted to have the chance to chat to Ursula Meier about the making of the film…

Rachel: You’ve worked in TV before, including films for Arte and some documentary work, but this is your first feature. It’s all the more impressive, therefore, to have gathered a cast including Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet – can you tell us about how you got them to do it?

Ursula: I wrote the script for Isabelle Huppert – it’s good to dream! So I’m so lucky that she agreed. Actually it was very simple. She was shooting a film in Brussels, where I live. She read the script and thought it was a very original, cinematographic, not so french, not so psychological somehow. She loved all the details about sound, costume and set in the script. She liked it that the film doesn’t explain the characters explicitly, but you can feel the characters through the reading of the script. Then she watched my film for Arte, which was about young male and female athletes and their changing bodies. She liked that very much as well. And finally we met, and we liked each other very much! So that was great.

I actually wrote the film with an American actor in my head for the male lead, someone very physical like Sean Penn. Obviously I knew it was a French film so I couldn’t ask him, but I tried to think about who in France was like that? It was very difficult as French male actors don’t tend to be so physical. Then suddenly I thought of Gourmet, but much changed. He looks so different in Home from his other movies – more rock and roll, sexy, more athletic than usual. Gourmet also loved the script, and was excited to play a part that changed him completely.

As a couple Huppert and Gourmet were really interesting together. You can feel the love between them. She is so much more fragile – he’s the strong one. We worked a lot on the characters’ pasts, imagining that Huppert’s character had been on drugs, and Gourmet’s had helped her to find happiness again. It really was just wonderful to work with such incredible talent.

Opening Weekend Date: 7 August 2009

Opening Weekend Date: 7 August 2009

Rachel: And what about your DOP, the amazing Agnes Godard?

Ursula: She’s incredible. Just great. She’s a fabulous photographer, but she can also see actors, costumes, everything.  She fell totally in love with the script and really wanted to make the film.  She insisted that, for this film, we must not reference other films or directors as that would be dangerous for the film. This film must look only like this film and no other… She would say “you are the director, so it’s like you”. We asked questions at every shot about what it means for the film, it was wonderful. We really want to work together again.

Rachel: You mention references to the paintings of Edward Hopper – can you explain how this affected your visual style?

Ursula: Yes, I have more photographer and painter references than directors. I love Jeff Wall (photographer) and Hopper. It’s funny, I didn’t realise how close Home is to Hopper, even though I once made a film for Arte about him, until I looked again at one of his pictures in my book. In Hopper, there’ll be a house near a big road or train. You feel in the painting that danger will come – not now, but it will come. It’s the same in Home. You think the danger will come from the outside, but actually it is inside the family.

Rachel: People have called the film ‘Lynchian’ and compared it to the work of Godard and early French directors. Who were your influences?

I definitely don’t think Home is like Godard, it’s comedy, science fiction, horror… For the exteriors we did think about David Lynch – a highway, strange during the night. But with respect to the writing, The Birds by Hitchcock: it’s all very happy, then suddenly a bird attacks. The first bird is like the first car in Home, it’s not very dramatic. Then the attack of the birds is like attack of the cars, and the tone shifts towards horror.

My other major influence is Polanski. I really, really like his film Repulsion – it’s very cinematographic, he uses costume, picture and sound as much as dialogue, because dialogue isn’t always true, people lie to themselves! Rather like Home, in Repulsion you understand taht there is something wrong with the mother, but it is never explained.

That’s why the costumes for Huppert’s character change a lot. Sometimes she wears a very nice dress from the 50s, then suddenly she’s in jeans. The shoes give away that she’s from the city, not the country – she’s not living there because she likes the landscape, but because she wants to escape her world.

"Radical and poetic...a Masterpiece is born." Metro

"Radical and poetic...a Masterpiece is born." Metro

Rachel: All these influencese are men, and there’s something about the aesthetic/style of Home which could be said to be masculine, with it’s dark edge. But the characters are so rounded, and the family such a complete unit, in that way it seems very feminine. Are you conscious of creating a new kind of film language?

Ursula: I love Jane Campion – especially her early films like An Angel At My Table. I also love Lynne Ramsay‘s Rat Catcher, and Lucretia Martel is incredible – she really opened up a new vision in her work. I feel very close to Ramsay and Martel, there’s a similar edge. I do think there is something close about young female directors at the moment.

Rachel: The film begins with much humour, but the darkness accelerates – how did you balance the tone?

Ursula: It was very difficult to balance the film between realism and surrealism. In the beginning it is naturalistic but strange. It’s a fable: it could be anywhere, it could be any time. But in fact it’s so hard to make sure it’s not placed in France, 20 years ago.

Getting the tone right was a major challenge. The film gets darker and darker – it’s not a classical script with a climax and so on. I wrote many versions of the film. I wrote whilst playing an audio of the sound of the highway. For different scenes I wrote with the noise of more and more intense traffic. I needed to be like the characters. Sometimes I’d go to the highway and sit and feel how it is. It was important for me to meet people who lived in front of the highway and ask them about it, too. In the end of Home, the sound becomes inescapable, but it’s the sound of themselves, of Gourmet’s breath, rather than the traffic outside.

Rachel: What would your advice be to women starting out as directors?

It’s great! I heard an inteview with Truffaut a long time ago. He said that film directing is great work for women and he hoped that they’d be many women 50 years after him. I love Truffaut!

In France and certainly in Switzerland, the most interesting young filmmakers are women. I think that in Europe it’s no more difficult for women than it is for men.

Home opens in cinemas on Friday August 7th. For more information about the film and a chance to view the trailer, please see our First Weekenders Club page. And remember – buying a ticket on the opening weekend makes a huge difference to the life of the film, so please support Ursula and go see it by Sunday!


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