Saturday, March 02, 2013

Home for the Weekend - Hans-Christian Schmid

Home for the Weekend (Was bleibt) (Hans Christian Schmid - Germany) 85 minutes The weekend-in-the-country film is a staple of French arthouse cinema but one that is not so common across the Rhine. Hans-Christian Schmid’s recent films have not really indicated him to be that sort of director either; his 2006 film Requiem, about a notorious exorcism in 1970s Bavaria was a chillingly apposite examination of mental illness and the way it can be masked behind religious devotion; more recently, his English-language film Storm portrayed a Bosnian woman due to testify as a witness at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague who is being intimidated by her rapist’s associates.

Home for the Weekend is a lower-key film than either of those but also features a woman in distress. This time it is Gitte (Corinna Harfouch), the sexagenarian wife of a Bonn publisher who springs it on everyone ‘home for the weekend’ that she has decided to come off her medication after thirty years of treatment for depression. The focus of the film is Gitte’s son Marko (Lars Eidenger ), a first-time novelist who has come home from Berlin with his six-year-old son Zowie (yes, Marko is a Bowie fan) for the occasion. Like many troubled families, the Heidtmanns have a patina of contentedness - father Günter has been consistently loving and supportive to Gitte throughout her depression but has recently taken a mistress, and intends to enjoy his retirement after selling his share in the successful publishing house. Meanwhile, Marko’s younger brother Jakob’s dental practice is tanking despite the head start his parents’ investment has given him.

The drama fizzes in a minor key but Home for the Weekend rings far truer than most of its French counterparts. Neither is it heavy going; there is a wonderful scene where the Gitte and Günter perform, seemingly spontaneously, a version of Charles Aznavour’s ‘Tu l’laisses aller’, as Marko plays it on the piano, a song, you feel they have all sung together many times before. It’s a hugely moving scene, amplified by the strength of the acting; Schmid directs his actors so well a physically and aurally elaborate scene such as this one comes off so effortlessly, as if the cast have actually known each other all their lives.

The context and setting of Home for the Weekend do eventually begin to wear on the film; despite its reasonable length, the drama sags in the latter third and reminded me a bit of Long Day’s Journey into Night, and not in a terribly flattering way. Schmid, however, is sensitive enough to longueurs to throw a few ideas into the mix in the last twenty minutes. The coda, in particular, is a remarkable piece of narrative consolidation. Home for the Weekend is a foray into the sort of social cinema more commonly associated with Schmid’s contemporaries such as Henning Winckler, Andreas Dresen and Christoph Hochhäuser; it is an impressive effort by Schmid, a small film that projects itself as a big one. And it’s also a pleasure to see that troubled families on screen can be sympathetic ones too.