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Texts and Contexts
by Susan Hayward
(In Paperback from Amazon)
"Private Property" (aka, "Nue propriete")
Pascale (Isabelle Huppert), as strange a mom as we've seen depicted onscreen, lives in her Belgian country house with her two grown sons, blond-haired Thierry and dark-haired Francois (Jeremie Renier and Yannick Renier, real-life brothers). They are fraternal twins and more young men than teenagers. They are of a size and level of awareness to make you wonder why they aren't out working in entry-level jobs instead of lingering at home like 13-year olds, watching the tube, shooting rats in the local pond, acting petulantly and doing boy things.
That is, when Thierry isn't trying to punish Pascale for divorcing their dad. He goes ballistic when she presents a plan to sell the old homestead, the sons' boyhood home, for some hairbrained idea about moving on with her life and opening up a bed and breakfast.
Mom, for her part, despite being tolerant to the point of excess, bounces emotionally from growing tired of the one-note venom from a child to succumbing to her motherly instincts, which don't preclude faithfully putting food on the dinner table and showering naked with Francois brushing his teeth in full view. Hints of incest pervade the domicile in isolated, unexplained scenes, heightening the intrigue with "hey, what's going on?" questions.
But a sign of normality enters the atmosphere when we see that Pascale is sexually involved with neighbor Jan (Kris Cuppens), which is the likely provocation for her thoughts of a new life. When she invites Jan over for dinner with the purpose of talking the grown sons into showing maturity and respecting their mother. In other words, allow her the freedom to sell the house so that she can fulfill her plans with him, Jan. Thierry makes it clear that a lecture from a stranger was an ill-conceived idea from the start. Jan is stunned into submission by Thierry's callous response and, seeing no hope that his plans with Pascale can ever be fulfilled, his relationship with her quickly goes south.
Meanwhile, ex-husband Luc (Patrick Descamps) continues his erratic visits to keep his sons in spending money and maintain his relationship with them, to Pascale's consternation. His posture as the wronged husband is what feeds Thierry's apparent hatred of her and his presence on the grounds isn't appreciated.
Lafosse's indications of underlying dynamics in his strange family are presented furtively. Standalone scenes of profound significance come at you like a night attack in Anbar. The most egregious is the orgasmic lovemaking scene of two people whose identities aren't altogether clear. The lighting is shadowy and the woman's face isn't shown to camera. But her reddish hair implies it's mom, and her dark-haired lover could only be Francois. No other pairing is possible at this stage in the film.
This identification appears to be supported by the next cut, in which Francois is leaning back against the refrigerator, enjoying a snack, while watching mom do her ironing. Never by touch or innuendo is our assumption about the preceding scene confirmed. The only outward sign of Francois' maternal feelings are his subtle defenses of mom during Thierry's repeated attacks. "Give it a rest," he says during one of his insults.
We keep asking, is this what's going on? Do we have a woman here who is making love with a son and an adult lover? Does it explain the shower scene or have anything to do with her motherly permissiveness? Equally unexplainable is an arbitrary climax to the movie that pretty much clips any hope we might have had about getting our questions answered. Lafosse gives it a rest without clearing up a few mysteries. Which unfortunately means he doesn't have to acknowledge or deal with them.
~~ Jules Brenner