Sunday, March 4, 2012

The House (orig Dom / Dům) [2011]

Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing -

CSFD listing [CZ] [Eng-(Google)Trans]
CSFD reviews [CZ/SK][Eng-(Google)Trans]

The House (orig Dom [sk]/ Dům [cz]) written and directed by Zuzana Liová (CSFD listing Eng. translation unavailable), a young Slovak born director, is a joint Czech and Slovak production that recently played at the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

Set in a small Slovakian town in the mountains, it is a lovely current film about a clash of generational aspirations and expectations:

Inrich (played by Miroslav Krobot [IMDB] [CSFD]) is trying to be a good father by building a house for his daughter Eva (played by Judit Bardos [IMDB] [CSFD]) about to graduate from high school, the house of course being right next door to her parents' home ... ;-).

Eva, of course, has completely different plans.  She wants to go to London to work as an au pair (nanny) to see something of the world in this way, and, yes, implicit in this, perhaps score an English husband ...  A rather smart/talented teen, she's successfully put-up an online profile on an au-pair website and she's been saving-up money for the cost of getting to England by writing term-papers for her less ambitious classmates.

Part of the tragedy implicit in the story is that Eva is clearly a very smart young woman.  And what does she want to do with her life?  Go to College?  Clearly she's bright enough, and indeed, that's Inrich's Plan-B.  He's even saved up money to help her go to college, but will give her the money that he's saved up for her only if she does that.  Instead, Eva wants to go to England to work as a nanny for a couple of years and hopefully get married there.

So the two are at loggerheads.  What does ma', Viera (played by Tatjana Medvedská [IMDB] [CSFD] ) think of all this?  Well, clearly she's unhappy, sees a coming train wreck between her husband and her daughter and seems powerless to stop it.

Worst of all, she's seen all this before.  After Inrich had forbidden their older daughter Jana (played by Lucia Jašková [IMDB][CSFD]) from "going to Norway" after her graduation (Why Norway? Well, like the younger sis' Eva's dreams of England, Norway would be an attainable goal not all that far from Slovakia. And well, Norway's somewhere "other than Slovakia..." ;-), Jana got back at her father by marrying the amiable but rather loser of a son of a former "two bit" Communist party official that her dad hated.  By the film's start, Jana has three kids with said amiable "loser" and Inrich has no clue of how to reconcile with Jana, her husband (who he hates) and thus with his three grand-kids that he has through through them.

Being forced by her father to stay in town (or at least in/near Czecho-Slovakia), Eva starts "acting out" as well by entering into an illicit relationship with a man in his 30s, Jakub (played by Marián Mitaš [IMDB] [CSFD]), who turns out to be her English teacher her final semester at school. (Jakub had just returned from England to Slovakia because his Slovak wife "wanted a house..." when Eva first meets him.  What kind of a job can someone returning to rural Czecho-Slovakia get after having spent many years in England?  He becomes an English teacher at the local high school...).

A relationship such as this between a high school student and teacher is, of course, illegal / immoral in most parts of the world today.  So it ends badly.  As soon as the two are found out, Jakub is summarily fired by the school's Principal and Eva is barely allowed to graduate.

But what are Inrich and Viera going to do now?  Having already horribly botched their relationship with their older daughter Jana, now Eva's acting out and they're at the precipice again.  That's what the rest of the movie is about...

A few notes coming from someone like me, who is of Czech descent ;-), that may help the non-Czech or non-Slovak to appreciate the movie better:

(1) This is really a remarkable post Czechoslovakia, Czech and Slovak production.  It's clearly set in Slovakia.  The family in the film lives in a non-descript town in the Slovakian mountains. The currency used throughout the film is the Euro.  (Slovakia decided to go with the Euro a number of years ago, the Czechs perhaps with pretensions of "being like England" or even "becoming like Switzerland" have chosen to stay with the "Czech Crown."  This all makes for interesting conversation in both Czech and Slovak households in light of the current Euro crisis).   Still, while the movie was filmed in Slovakia, many of the actors are Czech and the film was apparently produced in both Czech and Slovak languages.  The version that I saw in Chicago was Czech.

(2) Since this movie was set in Slovakia, the Catholic Church does have a fairly significant presence in the film.  (Slovaks are some 90% Catholic, while the Czechs are about 60% Catholic and by reputation, especially in the cities, far less fervent...).  Eva is an organist at the local Catholic Church and when Eva's parents find out that she's had an affair with one of her teachers, they drag her to the priest where the irritated father (speaking perhaps for all irritated fathers everywhere) orders his daughter: "Tak spust se!" ('Okay now spill it ...!") to the dismay of the priest ... So much for the niceties of "private confession" apparently when one's teenage daughter is found acting badly ... Yet, we actually don't know what happens after Inrich orders his daughter to confess to the priest, and whatever would have been said, probably would have ended in private Confession.  Still we see an irate dad, demanding justice here from the Church against his daughter who's been misbehaving.

Would a scene like this play out in the (by reputation) "far more worldly" Czech Republic?  My guess is probably not in the cities.  But it is possible that in the countryside and in particular (at least by reputation) in rural Moravia (in the Eastern part of the Czech Republic, closest to, in fact, the border with Slovakia) the scene could well play out as well.

In any case, parents, whether practicing Catholics or secularists could probably relate to the scene and in the case of secular families, THEY MAY EVEN WISH THERE WAS A PRIEST OR PASTOR IN THEIR LIVES TO GO TO IN TIMES LIKE THESE.

(3) Americans may find the anger expressed between parents and children in the film (and even between the spouses) quite jarring.  I certainly found it jarring and I grew-up in a Czech home (if in the United States).  Perhaps to try to explain the rawness expressed (and not merely in the dialogue but also in the facial expressions) one could appeal to the basis of the conflict in the film:  Two sets of expectations, those of the father and of his two daughters, were utterly at odds.  The father was trying to be a good dad.  Yet he was utterly off-base with regard to what his daughters actually wanted.

As is typical perhaps of films in general (and actually of Czechs and Slovaks in particular), everything does get resolved in the end because no one really wanted to be so "right" as to irreversibly cause pain to the others (being Czech and having known and worked with Slovaks all my life, I do believe this to be a fundamental characteristic of both peoples -- these are two _small_ and fundamentally amiable peoples who don't want to be angry with another forever).  So it becomes inevitable that there would be a happy ending to this story.

Just how it all works out, I'm not going to say ... ;-)

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