'Home': Venice Review

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
Kids, don't do this at, um, home.

The latest film from Flemish director Fien Troch ('Unspoken') looks at the generation gap between teenagers and their parents.

Three adolescents struggle to make sense of their relationships with the adults around them in the ironically titled Home, the fourth feature from Dutch-language Belgian director Fien Troch. As in her previous films — Someone Else’s Happiness, about the impact of the death of a child on a village community; Unspoken, with Emmanuelle Devos, about the disappearance of a little girl; and Kid, about a 7-year-old boy growing up in rural Flanders — Troch is again interested in the complex dynamics between different generations, though it’s the first time she intimately explores the lives of teenagers who are close to maturity and thus about to join the ranks of those they are nominally rebelling against.

The result is a bleak, verité-like drama in which unhealthy parent-child relations only grow worse and people, instead of learning from their mistakes or picking up on the troubling signals of others, become part of a maelstrom of misunderstandings and malfunction. This festival-friendly title premiered in Venice as a Horizons title and will be part of Toronto’s Platform competition but will probably be too austere and depressing for much theatrical action beyond Belgium.

When 17-year-old Kevin (Sebastian Van Dun) is released from juvvie, he is asked by his mother (Els Dottermans) to stay with the family of his aunt, Sonja (Karlijn Sileghem), to avoid conflict with his father. The good news is that Sonja’s son, the also fair-haired Sammy (Loic Batog), is practically the same age.

They start hanging out and it isn’t long before Kevin meets Sammy’s best buddy, the taciturn and dark-haired John (Mistral Guidotti). Though Sonja might be a touch too overbearing and she doesn’t always get her brood or do they get her, she seems pretty well intentioned. The same can’t be said for John’s mother (Els Deceukelier), who not only keeps John on a very tight leash but who turns out to have a very unhealthy relationship with her son, which ushers in the film’s (largely expected) third-act spiral into violence.

That the youngsters initially seem apathetic and only interested in the prospect of casual sex or whatever is happening on their phone shouldn’t come as news to anyone who has ever been around a teenager since the introduction of smartphones and the internet. That Home is very explicit in how it deals with the teens’ sexuality is thus not a surprise. The different reactions from older art house patrons, who might feel it “doesn’t advance the story,” and the generation it depicts, which is unlikely to care since an erect teen peen more or less isn’t anything they haven’t already got access to online, in itself suggest that Troch has at least got her finger on the pulse with this story about generational differences.

The choice to shoot the film in Academy ratio helps underline that both the parents and the teenagers at times feel like climbing the walls because the other generation doesn’t seem to get them. But it also does more than that; together with its freewheeling approach to sex, the film’s aspect ratio directly links Home to Gus Van Sant’s similarly boxy movies about unmoored teenagers: Elephant, filmed by the late great Harris Savides, and Paranoid Park, shot by renegade cinematographer Christopher Doyle.

But Troch and DP Frank van den Eeden’s smudgy documentary aesthetic is almost the opposite of cinematic; some rough footage from the kids’ phones is occasionally spliced in and doesn't even look all that different. This too might seem like a counterintuitive choice for some, as if Troch, whose earlier features were beautifully composed, decided to do a quickie feature on a low budget between "real" movies. But this logical pairing of form and content is more likely an exciting new direction in her work as a director simply less bound by cinematic conventions than before.

That said, a purposefully rough-around-the-edges verité aesthetic can only get you that far. Unfortunately, in the story department — the screenplay is credited to Troch and her editor, Nico Leunen — the film grows increasingly predictable. When a major event, itself not at all a surprise, tests the strength of character of a good part of the cast, more nuanced pictures should emerge of the characters’ psychological makeup. But this is only partially the case, and mainly because the youngsters are good at suggesting inner turmoil without actually doing all that much. But it’s not enough to compensate for the weakly scripted third act.

Venue: Venice Film Festival
Production companies: Prime Time, Versus Production
Cast: Sebastian Van Dun, Mistral Guidotti, Lena Suijkerbuijk, Loic Bellemans, Luka Mortier, Els Deceukelier, Els Dottermans, Karlijn Sileghem, Loic Batog, Robby Cleiren, Kevin Janssens, Jeroen Perceval
Director: Fien Troch
Screenplay: Fien Troch, Nico Leunen
Producers: Antonino Lombardo
Co-producers: Olivier Bronckart, Jacques-Henri Bronckart
Director of photography: Frank van den Eeden
Production designer: Jef Peremans
Costume designer: Judith van Herck, Valerie Le Roy
Editor: Nico Leunen
Music: Johnny Jewel
Casting: Magali Coremans
Sales: Doc & Film International

Not rated, 103 minutes