The House: Berlin Review

Classic family drama is anchored by its compelling performances.  

Zuzana Liova's Czech-Slovak co-production starring Katerina Winterova and Miroslav Krobot is recommended for lovers of Ken Loach-style realistic dramas built on naturalistic performances, sans the politics.

Czech-Slovak co-production The House is as concrete and intimate as its title. A classic coming-of-age story, it finely weaves a familial battle of the wills into a larger tapestry of the shifting world, specifically in poor, rural Eastern Europe. On paper, it's nothing we haven't seen before, and it could be a tad shorter in its third act, but if this particular theme has become unduly heavy-handed as of late, writer-director Zuzana Liova is not.

The House is recommended for lovers of Ken Loach-style realistic dramas built on naturalistic performances, sans the politics. Its faultless casting and sparse dialogue are reminiscent of The Country Teacher (2008), another Czech title that scored well with international festival audiences, and show impressive maturity from a young filmmaker in her big-screen debut.

Like Loach, Liova can place the camera in just the right spot to capture tiny gestures from her actors -- and then make us forget we're watching something constructed. She also knows how to convey the silence that is as much a part of her characters' way of life as the empty rolling hills -- both beautiful and confining -- surrounding them.

The titular house is a well-intentioned prison disguised as a home. Eva (Katerina Winterova) is about to graduate from high school and can't wait to flee her small Czech village for London. Her stingy, overbearing father Imrich (Miroslav Krobot), a bottle factory foreman, has other plans, and is almost single-handedly building his daughter a house next door. Forcing her to lay bricks in her every spare moment, in this way he also ensures she's constantly under his watchful eye.

Longing for freedom, Eva skips school to work odd jobs towards her plane ticket, and gets involved with the older, married Jakub (Marian Mitas), though initially neither realizes he's her new English teacher.

Neither Eva nor Imrich want Eva to end up like her older sister Hana (Ester Geislerova), whom he disowned for marrying a good-for-nothing (Marek Geisberg). While for Eva the solution is emigrating abroad, Imrich thinks it lies in a tight leash. Insanely proud, his domineering father-knows-best attitude is the closest he can come to professing his love and anxieties for his family.

But his archaic, patriarchal ways are unacceptable to Eva, who knows that in this day and age she can be her own person. Her little acts of defiance towards her father, especially in front of others, supply most of the humor in this gentle drama.

The director knows her characters inside and out, and so too does the cast. Exchanging the barest minimum of dialogue, Krobot and Winterova totally anchor The House as a father and daughter cut from the same cloth of stubbornness. He is particularly inspired as a primitive man unable to express the depths of his emotions.

Tatjana Medvecka as the wife and mother torn apart by her daughters, her husband and her own lack of freedom, plays the story's wisest character. Mitas is appropriately restrained, and Geislerova and Geisberg deftly convey the love of a doomed relationship neither can escape.

In the Czech release, Slovak actors Mitas and Geisburg will be dubbed by Czech actors Pavel Batek and Matej Hadek, respectively.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival
Production companies: Fog'n'Desire Films, Samastinor, Czech Television (CT), Slovak Television (STV)
Cast: Katerina Winterova, Miroslav Krobot, Marian Mitas, Tatjana Medvecka, Ester Geislerova, Marek Geisberg
Director: Zuzana Liova
Screenwriter: Zuzana Liova
Producers: Vladimir Bednar, Michal Kollar, Walter Kraft, Jaroslav Kucera, Viktor Taus
Directors of photography: Juraj Chlpik, Jan Baset Stritezsky
Production designer: Pavol Andrasko
Music: Walter Kraft
Costume designer: Katarina Holla
Editor: Maro Slapeta
No rating, 104 minutes

comments powered by Disqus