"The House": Silence Talks By Jeanette Gentele

in 55th San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Jeanette Gentele

In very many French films people sit around tables in coffee shops or restaurants and talk, talk, talk. Manuel Poirier for once lets the silence between people talk, lets their faces tell all that should be said, but is not.

Manuel Poirier, born 1954, with 15 films on his record as a film and TV director, is also an experienced script writer — which shows in The House (La maison). Layer after layer in the story is revealed to the viewer. But above all he has a very good hand with the actors who play down their feelings instead of exploiting them.

Malo, excellently played by the versatile actor Sergi López, has just been left by his wife. When we meet him he is sitting at home alone longing for his three children, who are on vacation with their mother. The film does not tell what has happened between husband and wife. But it is not a happy divorce.

There is another woman in Malo’s life, but he is not really interested. Malo goes to a party with friends in the country. On their way home he and his friend Remi stop by the road to pee, and they see a bulletin board about a house for sale for very little money. By chance they go the house and break in to get a look. On his way out Malo snaps a letter written by a child, which reminds him of the letter his little daughter has written to him.

Somehow he feels guilty by steeling the letter and decides to phone to the owners of the house to give it back. The owners are two sisters which are, due to depts, forced to sell their father’s house which also is the house of their childhood. Malo is touched by the younger sister Cloé’s story without saying anything about himself. He gets to know that the letter is written by her to her father at the time when their mother left them, a divorce Cloé never has gotten over and which overshadows her life today. The attraction between Malo and Cloé grows. Malo starts to see in Cloé his own daughter as a grown up but unhappy woman. To redeem her and through that also redeeming himself he decides to buy the house at the auction.

But by the same time his best friend Remi and his wife have fallen in love with the house and also decided to buy it. Remi does not understand why Malo suddenly wants the house and gets furious. Moreover, a neighbor, a farmer, also wants to buy the house, because he needs the land.

The scene with the auction is breathtaking. An unknown buyer appears, for whom there seems to be no limit. Malo bids higher and higher, without having enough money, to please Cloé who is devastated by the thought of losing the house. And so is he.

Suddenly the house has become something much more than an old ruin to all the involved people. It has become the image of happiness or the image of a happy life. For Cloé it is the image of her once happy childhood that she never can bring back. For Malo’s friend Remi and his wife it is the image of the happy marriage they hope for, in the bosom of nature. While Malo sees it as a magical gift to his children and above all to his daughter, so that she will not be an unhappy like Cloé when she grows up.

In the end all of them wake up from their crazy dream and realize that life is more complicated and that a house will not solve their problems.