THE LINE Review: Ursula Meier's Dysfunctional Family Drama
Swiss director Ursula Meier examines what constitutes home, and its physical and metaphorical boundaries in this intense family drama.
The film starts with a tour-de-force slo-mo of household items thrown against the wall.
Plates, bottles, records, vases, anything that is within the reaches of Margaret (Stéphanie Blanchoud) that she can hurl at her mom, Christina (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). It’s 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 Margaret getting a restraining order. She can’t be within one hundred meters of Christina’s house. With nowhere to go, Margaret, a singer, take temporary refuge in the apartment of her former lover and bandmate, Julien (Benjamin Biolay), now a music producer.
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 a boundary line around the house, a hundred-meter distance fence made of light blue paint. This means the field, the road, the creek, really, anything 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. When the scandal Margaret caused becomes 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 is continually taking up one young boyfriend after another, and her emotionally unstable, violent sister Margaret. She prays day and night for a 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 how her mom is doing. Marion is reluctant to tell her that her attack left mom half-deaf on her right ear, and she had to stop giving piano lessons.
Filmmaker 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 by 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 the 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, first when she was too young and then when he wa too old.
As usual, Meier sketches out a dysfunctional family that is still a family, nonetheless. And she is wise enough not to question her characters motives or dig into their backgrounds too deeply, letting silence do the talking.
The Line opens on Friday, March 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 March 31 and Sunday, April 2.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com
- Ursula Meier
- Stéphanie Blanchoud
- Robin Campillo
- Antoine Jaccoud
- Stéphanie Blanchoud
- Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
- Elli Spagnolo