Home Care (2015)
Starring: Alena Mihulová, Bolek Polívka, Tatiana Vilhelmová, Marian Mitas, Slávek Horák
Directed by: Slávek Horák
Written by: Slávek Horák
Rating: NR Running Time: 1 hr 32 min
Home Care is a bitter-sweet independent comedy from the Czech Republic which I had the pleasure of seeing at this year’s International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg (Oct. 9th – 24th).
Home Care has an interesting premise, combined with very good writing and editing as well as great acting performances. All these ingredients makes this an all around excellent film that can be enjoyed by everyone and will hopefully be seen by a wider audience.
The film’s heroine, Vlasta (Alena Mihulova), is a rural “home carer”, a sort of county nurse spending her days travelling through the villages looking after the frail and elderly, helping them with their medication, etc. Braving the weather and other obstacles she travels by bus or on foot, always dragging two heavy bags of equipment with her. She does so tirelessly and selflessly, even though she is poorly paid, and even though some of her patients are difficult to deal with, ungrateful, or even plain undeserving. In her unwavering sense of duty she does not even shy away from trying to rope in her husband or her future son-in-law for the benefit of others.
As you may already deduce from this character description, the film has two core themes: where exactly are the boundaries between sense of duty, self-sacrifice, and self-destruction; and (to a lesser degree) at what point do this woman’s self-sacrifice and overwhelming care cause a feeling of being “smothered” in the people around her. These themes come to a head as Vlasta receives a life-changing diagnosis.
This film does not try to surprise you with a boatload of twists and turns. It is a simple story enabling a tender, detailed character study. Apart from Vlasta, the most interesting character is her husband Lada. His inability to cope with the diagnosis they receive and the couple’s inability to communicate are revealed in a subtle and heartbreaking way, which is in many scenes also funny. Portraying such a character is especially difficult, because the character’s inability to express his feelings or show emotions at the same time puts a lot of obstacles in the way of the actor who is trying to bring exactly these hidden feelings across. But it is pulled-off flawlessly in this film, and a lot of credit for this has to be given to the writing and directing, but also of course to the talents of the man playing Lada. There is a reason Bolek Polivka is counted amongst the Czech Republic’s top actors.
At the festival’s Q&A session, writer/director Slavek Horak talked at length about the way his childhood in the countryside inspired this deeply personal film. He modelled Vlasta and Lada on his own parents, and many of the incidents involving Vlasta’s patients are based on his mother’s real-life experiences. Horak shot Home Care in his hometown and the surrounding villages of Southern Moravia, and his parents’ house and garden were used for the home of Vlasta and Lada in the film.
The third main character in the film is Mlada Hanackova (Tatiana Vilhelmova), the daughter of one of Vlasta’s patients. She is a deeply caring person who likes Vlasta a lot, but at the same time she is both slightly naïve and slightly arrogant and dismissive. Her believe in esoteric healing practices seems at times to implicate a mild denigration of Vlasta’s work. Through her character we are introduced to another, albeit minor topic of the film, the parallel existence of various scientific and unscientific methods of “healing”. Throughout the film, Vlasta is exposed to at least three worlds: the traditional medical profession, the reliance of elderly village folk on traditional herbal concoctions, and the intricate and at times outlandish believe systems of the esoteric community. The latter is represented not only by Mlada, but especially by her “spiritual leader” Miriam (played by veteran Slovak actress Zuzana Kronerova). Unlike Mlada, Miriam is almost entirely detached from reality, and her character is hilariously portrayed. That said, it is not the film’s aim to judge or recommend any of these three worlds. All of them have their weaknesses and peculiarities exposed in an often loving and funny manner.
The list of characters is completed by Vlasta’s daughter Marcella and her fiancé, who appear only briefly in the film before the final scenes, but whose wedding is of importance for the structure of the film. In addition, the glimpses we can get of Vlasta’s relationship with Marcella are hugely important for the understanding of Vlasta’s character. And it is fortunate that with Sara Venclovska the film makers found someone who could do the role of Marcella in those few but pivotal scenes justice.
As I said, a very enjoyable film. Not a difficult art house piece, but a strong and straightforward independent film. So this is not one of those “foreign” films where you have to dig through layers of cultural differences and work hard to fully understand the characters and their surroundings. This story and these characters could be easily set in almost any part of the world, and although its humour may have characteristically Czech elements to it, Home Care is so universal that you can easily imagine how a film similar to this one could have been made in the UK or Scandinavia for example. In other words, this film’s particular strength in regard to international audiences lies in the fact that anyone can immediately relate and connect to the characters and the subject matter.
Home Care has been submitted by the Czech Republic for consideration as a possible Best Foreign Language Film nominee at the next Academy Awards®.