Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012: Home for the Weekend

Coming off the back of an acclaimed showcase at the Berlin Film Festival Home for the Weekend, directed by iconoclastic German filmmaker Hans Christian Schmid (Requiem) arrives in Edinburgh with high expectations. And it doesn’t disappoint. Sticking to similar themes explored in his previous works Schmid has a crafted an elegant and stylish film that taps into the physiological mind set of an upper middle class suburban family. When Berlin based writer Marko (Lars Eidinger) returns home with his 10 year old son Zowie (Egon Merten) to see his parents and his older dentist brother (Sebastain Zimmler) things take a turn for the worse when matriarch Gitte (Corinna Harfouch) who’s been battling depression for decades announces plans to come off her medication. What follows is an exquisitely played out meditation on grief and regret.

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Home for the Weekend is first and foremost an intimate character study. Each member of the family is gifted with plenty of space to breathe and develop allowing the actor’s a wonderful opportunity to craft fully rounded portrayals. There’s definitely an air of Bergman about Schmid’s film, the ways in which the mental states of the characters are ruthlessly examined until each reach their own breaking point and explode. The tasteful exterior of affluent European life is smashed to pieces here. As the cracks start to break through the surface and long kept secrets begin to make themselves known the film takes on elements of a thriller as Gitte wakes up one morning, sets the table and runs off into the woods. Home for the Weekend is the kind of beautiful, understated drama that Michael Haneke could make if he only stopped trying to torture his audience into submission.

Schmid and DP Bogumil Godfrejow create a simple but effective visual style, favouring long edits where the full grasp of the screenplay’s complexities can be appreciated. Natural lighting gently envelops the action in the soft tints of the summer sun as the emotionally distant family wander through the gorgeous glass house like lonely spirits unable to move on to the next world. There’s a sumptuous minimalist sheen to the films’ exterior, it’s in the house itself, the costumes worn by the characters and the framing of the camera where the actors are treated like figures in classical portraiture. The palette is primarily neutral tones, plenty of whites and grey adding to this ominous mood that is desperately kept at bay.

The performance by the cast is one of the strongest parts of the film. Eidinger is superb as the naïve Marko, meekly trying to hold together a broken marriage and a fragile relationship with his older brother. Eidinger and Zimmler have great chemistry together and the difficult rapport between the two is expertly played out: two very different siblings, who not surprisingly butt heads on how best to cope with their mother. Gitte is the beating heart of the film and the great German actress Corinna Harfouch reflects this with a masterful turn full of grace, hinting but never fully showing the dark past her character has endured.

 

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012: Here, There

In remote China, high up in the mountains it’s the end of autumn and the endless stretch of forest is tinted brown and orange. Waves of cool mist descend from high above the mountain peaks down into the icy rivers, leaving a streak of silver on the landscape. Lu Sheng’s visually arresting feature debut Here, There gets its European Premiere here at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Screening as part of the New Perspectives programme Here, There interweaves three stories that address concerns in contemporary China, in particular the problems and anxieties facing young people in a country that’s in constant fluctuation. In Shanghai a trainee waiter gets tangled up in the mysterious activities of a female customer whilst in Paris a Chinese student studying abroad is mugged and finds help from an unlikely source. Up in the mountain a reindeer herder walks the lonely forest paths anticipating a visit from his wife and young son.

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It’s not surprising Here, There is so visually moving as Sheng studied cinematography in Paris and has been working alongside premier Chinese filmmakers like JIA Zhangke and WANG Bing for the last decade. Coming from a photographic background can be a problem for first time directors as they languish too much attention on the camera and not enough on the story and characters. But Sheng doesn’t have that problem here. Some of the compositions are simply stunning though: a petit woodland bird framed dead in the centre, the fall foliage creating a hazy mosaic in the background, an old soldier wandering through a lonely war memorial, the white graves sticking out of the earth like polished slabs of bone.

But Here, There is more than a visual poem it’s a damming but subtle critique of modern China. No more is this evident than in the story thread set in Shanghai, where an enigmatic young woman gets swallowed up by the big city. With no close family, little money and terrible living conditions and the great irony that she works for an insurance firm but cannot afford any herself, her story is a tragic one and is all too universal. How many us in our twenties have questioned our place in the world? In constant doubt where we’re going? Ultimately this is a film about lost souls, struggling to find their feet in a modern world that can be merciless. The old ways are dying out as we see in the rural story arc and the filmmakers lament for this loss. The reindeer herder is one of few left up in the mountain, his wife urges him to return to the towns and take up work there. His life is simple and hard but also beautiful. Scenes between him and his son carrying out the day to day duties, including cutting and carrying blocks are ice are a joy to watch, Sheng employing documentary style realism to capture these moments.Here, There is a striking film and an important one. If we gave up a couple of hours from our busy lives to this movie we would find a lot of deep truths.