Foreign-Language Spotlight: Czech Drama 'Home Care' Finds the Funny in Getting Old
Slavek Horak found inspiration in his own family for his feature debut about a home care nurse who needs looking after herself.
There's nothing like a major life milestone to concentrate the mind. When Slavek Horak realized his 40th birthday was approaching he knew it was time —now or never— to make his debut feature.
A successful director of television commercials for more than two decades, Horak wasn't certain he had what it takes to make a feature film.
"I still didn't feel quite ready and mature enough to make a profound film,” he says. “But when I started to approach 40 I realized I better die trying than wait another 20 years.”
With clear idea of the story he wanted to tell, Horak went back to his roots, in Moravia, a southeastern region of the Czech Republic, to find some peace and quiet. He hadn't reckoned with his mother, a very chatty woman who works as a home care nurse.
"My mother is extremely talkative and was always bothering me with hundreds of little stories from her work,” he recalls. "Now, given the film’s title, it seems pretty obvious what followed, but it took me quite some time to realize that her stories are much more interesting than anything I would ever come up with."
So it was that an Oscar-contender was born.
It is the immediacy of the story, in its depiction of the minutiae of daily life in rural Moravia, that gives Home Care its charm. At times darkly funny, at times bittersweet, the film examines the finality of human existence through a tender portrayal of a dedicated nurse who puts everyone's needs above her own. Played by Alena Mihulova, Nurse Vlasta is forced, via a bizarre, and hilarious accident, to learn that this attitude is not just selfless but also self-destructive.
The film sits firmly within a very Czech tradition of rural tragicomedies, bringing to mind classics such as Jiri Menzel's Closely Watched Trains or more recent films like Bohdan Slama's The Country Teacher.
"I would love to think that my film doesn’t differ from the best Czech efforts set in countryside, but that is not for me to judge,” Horak says. "I can only say that I was born and raised there, in the small town in Southern Moravia, a lovely wine region, and that living in Prague and traveling all around the world has enabled me to understand all the specific humor and drama of this life. And to love it even more."
Making the film taught him that "Mom knows best," Horak says, without a touch of irony. "I didn't set out to make a love letter to my parents and my region, but it turned out to be one."