Private Property

Private Property


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pascale is a single mother who has managed for a long time on her own. Her ex-husband Luc, who lives with his new partner and baby, still visits occasionally, but she resents his presence. Her twin sons, Thierry and François, are now practically adult, yet they still expect her to do everything for them. If she has money, they expect her to spend it on them, insisting that this is their father's intention. When she wants to go out or buy herself nice clothes, they call her a whore. She feels it's best to keep her new boyfriend, Jan, secret from them; but she dreams of selling the house and moving away with him to start a little B&B. When she finally summons up the courage to talk about her plans, the awkward equilibrium of the household is destroyed forever.

Private Property is an ostensibly simple film which reveals increasingly complex layers the more one thinks about it, much like its characters. Though it's easy to view Pascale as a victim, first of her failed marriage and latterly of bullying (which, given the size difference between her and the boys, involves a real sense of physical threat), it gradually emerges that she was the one who instigated the separation and that she's made her own contributions to the fractious atmosphere in the house.

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Thierry, the most aggressive of the boys, seems anxious to define his masculinity in opposition to her, yet clearly makes an effort to restrain himself, especially when she lashes out physically at him. François doesn't want to seem soft in front of his brother but clearly has some sympathy and concern for his mother, even though he, too, is distraught at the idea of losing his childhood home.

As the story progresses the viewer is inspired to wonder how much of the boys' behaviour is a result of what they've grown up observing between their parents, and how slow their parents have been in coming to a rational understanding about the failure of their relationship.

At the heart of this film is a powerful performance from Isabelle Huppert, who dominates scenes by her presence even when her character is quiet and withdrawn. Jérémie Renier, who will be familiar to British viewers as the injured French soldier in Atonement, brings a depth and vulnerability to Thierry which challenges even her authority, whilst his brother Yannick is always convincing in the role of François.

Superbly imagined and brought to life in intricate detail, the house in which they live itself becomes a major player - a relic of the past, a prison for Pascale, and an anchor in a stormy sea for the boys. The action rarely leaves it, so that we feel its presence continually, overshadowing all that is said and done.

Private Property would probably work just as well as a play, but its deft camerawork means it never feels stagy. It's a curious and affecting piece of cinema which dares to ask questions about family that are usually ignored. Some viewers may feel that its finale lacks adequate resolution, but its very ambiguity is part of its strength. Well worth watching more than once.

Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2008
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A single mother comes into conflict with her twin teenage sons when she considers selling their house to make a new life for herself.
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Director: Joachim Lafosse

Writer: Joachim Lafosse, François Pirot

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Yannick Renier, Kris Cuppens, Patrick Descamps, Raphaëlle Lubansu

Year: 2006

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: Luxembourg, Belgium, France


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