“Our house is a very, very fine house” – Crosby, Stills and Nash
“A man’s home is his castle;” “Home Is Where the Heart Is;” and for peripatetics, claustrophobes, and, not to be cynical, increasing numbers of homeless, add “Home on the Range.” A domicile as a basic need, not to mention metaphor, is universal. It is more than a sanctuary, more than protection against the elements and outsiders. Be it a villa or shanty, a dwelling is a sancrosanct extension of our bodies, our psyches, our values, our souls, humankind projected into architectural form. “You’re only as good as your last night’s sleep,” says Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. “To make yourself whole again, you need a place to retreat to, whether it’s for activity or for rest.”
Given the inherent requirement for a stable residence, wild fluctuations in the real-estate market worldwide are having a powerful effect. Artists being interpreters of our deepest concerns, it should come as no surprise that most of the films in this year’s New Directors/New Films (March 25-April 5), whether consciously or not, bridge the connection between home and individual. Naturally, the processes of screenwriting and production took place prior to the era of the sub-prime mortgage debacle and its global ramifications, but the unpredictable dips and peaks preceded these productions.
Mi Casa (No) es su Casa
One film, from Switzerland, is even entitled “Home.” A family lives in isolation next to an unused highway. They awake to an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like assault by hard hats and paving trucks that open the stretch. Cars loaded with inconsiderate gawkers puncture their tranquil lifestyle. Desperate Dad shuts their place off with cinder blocks, not even leaving holes for ventilation. In the Mexican “Parque Via,” an old servant who lives an insular existence flips his lid when the upper-crust owner sells her house, his safety zone, driving him to a heinous act. Then there’s the resentful teenager whose biological father arrives at, and moves into, her home in in “The Fly,” from Russia. She burns the place down after drugging his tea.
In “Unmade Beds,” a young man moves into a London squat while stalking HIS biological father, in whose house he really wants to reside. (Dad just happens to be a real-estate agent.). Shy housekeeper Fausta is bilked by her pretentious concert pianist boss in the Peruvian “The Milk of Sorrow.” The woman pays with single pearls for the uneducated girl’s folk tunes, then, after successfully playing them on stage, locks her out and keeps the beads. The title character in “The Maid,” from Chile, views the large house in which she works as her personal turf, not realizing she will never be considered a member of the family. In the Italian/Brazilian “Birdwatchers,” indigenous Brazilians are unwelcome on the white rancher-owned property they claim as their birthright. They construct makeshift homes, putting themselves at the mercy of the gun-toting landowners. Even less welcome are the old ladies dumped at the apartment of a hapless, unemployed middle-aged man in “Mid-August Lunch,” an Italian production. At first he first resists the biddies, then embraces the friendships they manage to forge under the same roof in just two days. Abandoned young sisters move house to house but are finally welcomed at the bucolic farm of their relaxed grandparents in “Treeless Mountain” (USA/S. Korea)
In the Dutch “Can Go Through Skin,” a woman is unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend. Suddenly alone in their spacious attic loft, she is raped by an intruder. To heal, she purchases a run-down country place, she succumbs to understandable angst and loses her sanity. Louise, the lead in “Louise-Michel,” from Belgium, walks out of her apartment in high-rise public housing only to see it implode; she did not know it was scheduled for demolition. Her refuge: a mobile home park in which units are as indistinguishable as the cookie-cutter flats in her old building. Less malevolent is the Israeli “$9.99,” in which tenants in a single Tel Aviv apartment building are observed in their private infernos, mostly of their own making.
The American doc “We Live in Public” traces internet mogul Josh Harris’s plans to develop a cluster of spaces in which people would live openly, under 24-hour surveillance, blurring the line between public and private. Unfortunately, many of the “tenants” begin to exhibit aggressive, indeed regressive, behavior. He then filmd his and his girlfriend’s life in his loft for all to see, causing such stress that she departs. More quietly insidious is the function of the houses–those of the film’s characters, an assortment of high-school girls–in “Stay the Same Never Change,” another American film. The residences help to define them, providing more than merely a backdrop for the dissection of their ennui and fantasies. Like the family in Home, the two-story structures suffocate them.
You Can Never Go Home Again
In Autumn, from Turkey, a young political prisoner returns to his mother’s traditional house in the eastern mountains. We know little about him, except that he and the home are no longer a fit. As his last wish, a dying Native American in the American “Barking Water” races unsuccessfully to the house of the family he has thrown away.
Howard Feinstein’s coverage of ND/NF will continue tomorrow at indieWIRE.com