SIFF Film Review – The House
I think all film buffs have a few hyper-specific types of films that appeal to them in a sort of odd, beacon-like way. One of mine is indie films about normal people struggling with financial problems. Though that doesn’t sound particularly exciting, I’m quite serious—I’m fascinated by the kinds of stories that are told in this area, because they reflect so much more of real, everyday life than just about any other kind of drama. Big dramas—your medical crisis stories, your soaring star-crossed romances, your legal tours-de-force—depict out-of-the-ordinary events. Paying your bills, saving for the future of your children, facing the mundane demands of each day: that’s true drama. That’s existence.
The House, a Slovakian film playing in this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, is a solid entry in this unglamorous genre I like so much. Writer and director Zuzana Liová tells the story of one family living in a not-quite-rural village. Our main character is Eva, a smart high schooler aching for bigger experiences, with dreams of getting a job as an au pair in London after graduation. (She saves for the trip by writing essays and selling them to her classmates, a scheme that I’m fairly sure has never gone well in the history of ever.) Her father, Imrich, has other plans for her: he’s building a house, right next to the one the family lives in now, where Eva is to live while she attends college. Though she helps him with the construction, stoically, she obviously has no intention to ever live in the structure they’re making.
The expanded events in the lives of the characters in the film all seem to relate back to this simmering, steely push-and-pull between Imrich and Eva. It shouldn’t seem so bad, a father pressuring his daughter to go to college with the money he’s worked years to save for that purpose. But Imrich’s controlling demeanor goes past simply wanting what he thinks is best for Eva. We learn that Eva’s parents already “lost” her older sister, Jana, to a different kind of future—one where she married a neighbor boy, had three kids, and now the family can’t keep a roof over their heads. With this deviation from the plan already the story of one daughter, and with Eva’s brilliant mind to consider, another failure is unthinkable to Imrich. The house he was building for Jana stands unfinished. Now he pilfers bricks from it to build a new one, refusing to see that it is also unwanted.
Judit Bárdos as Eva provides a strong core for the film. It’s easy to sympathize with Eva’s desires for a life beyond her family and village, while still cringing at the poor decisions of a defiant teenager desperate for excitement. Bárdos captures all of this depth, all of the churning fear and hope behind the bold exterior, all the pain as things inevitably end up less than perfect. Playing against her, Miroslav Krobot as Imrich shows glimpses of the worry that drives him to his gruff, unyielding, occasionally violent exterior. They simply are daughter and father when they react to one another, conveying the burdens of 17 years of conflict.
With complex character relationships created through unflinching dialogue and deft acting, The House explores the increased difficulties that economic confines and small town life can put on a generational divide. Though a few of the twists in the plot can be seen too far in advance, the consistent tone and intimate photography will keep the viewer engaged throughout. This is a strong piece of work from Liová, presenting serious themes in a way that avoids manipulation or melodrama to illicit emotion. She fits a world into 90 minutes, and it’s time well spent.
The House screens tonight at the Harvard Exit at 8:30 PM.
Final Grade: B+