Thursday, March 30, 2023

Familial Boundaries

The Line (2022) - Meier the line The film starts with a tour de force slo-mo of household items thrown against the wall – the plates, bottles, records, vases, anything that is in the reaches of Margaret (Stéphanie Blanchoud) can hurl at her mom Christina (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). It’s a total mayhem. The scene ends with Margaret striking Christina in the face and her head hitting the grand piano in the living room.

Next, we see is Margaret getting a restraining order. She can’t be within the hundred meters of the Christina’s house. With nowhere to go, Margaret, a singer, take temporary refuge in her former lover and bandmate, now a music producer Julien (Benjamin Biolay)’s apartment.

It’s up to Margaret’s young stepsister, Marion (Elli Spagnolo), a churchgoing devout middle schooler, whose communion’s coming up, to keep peace between her mom and her sister as they are both very volatile people. To prevent Marion from getting into more trouble with the law, Marion decides to paint the boundary around the house a hundred-meter distance fence made of light blue paint, this means the field, the road, the creek that goes through the small Swiss town they live in.

In the school, they already make fun of little Marion as a chubby little goodie two shoes. With the scandal Margaret caused is well known in the small town, the taunting is worse. But Marion doesn’t care. She loves them both equally: her imperfect mom, a former famous concert pianist, who doesn’t seem to find a true love and taking up one young boyfriend after another, and her emotionally unstable, violent sister Margaret. She prays day and night for reconciliation of the two.

Marion and Margaret meet at a field just outside the blue line overlooking the house to practice Margaret’s choir singing for her communion with an extended power cable for Margaret’s guitar amp. She incessantly asks for how mom’s been doing. Marion’s reluctant to tell her that her attack left mom half-deaf on her right ear and had to stop giving piano lessons.

Ursula Meier examined what constitutes home and family and its physical and metaphorical boundaries with her previous features – Home (2008), and Sister (2012). With The Line, she continues to illustrate the theme with literally drawing the line on the dirt. The line must be respected and cannot be crossed, not only because it’s against the law, but it is drawn by an innocent child. It would be a betrayal of her love and trust to break it.

Blanchoud, the wild-eyed actress and musician is perfect for volatile Margaret, whose hot temper drives people away from her. Bruni Tedeschi is also superb as a self-centered, nihilistic woman-child who had kids too young and too old.

As usual, Meier sketches out a dysfunctional family which is still a family, nonetheless. And she is wise enough not to question her characters motives or dig their backgrounds too deeply and let silence do the talking.

The Line opens on 3/31 at Metrograph, New York, as part of Permeable Boundaries: The Films of Ursula Meier and also Lensed by Agnès Godard. Meier and Godard will be at the Q&A post-screening on 3/31 and 4/2.