I Was at Home, But...
The great German filmmaker Angela Schanelec returns with another formally dazzling, deeply emotional work
There are mysterious openings to films, and then there is the prologue to I Was at Home, But... We see a wild young dog chase a rabbit across some scrubland, eat its prey in some sort of outhouse, then take a nap while a donkey looks on indifferently. This eruption of violence followed by serenity is echoed in the elegant and enigmatic family drama that follows in this new work from the brilliant, formally daring German filmmaker Angela Schanelec – only it’s emotional violence, rather than physical, that characterises the film.
Schanelec regular Maren Eggert stars as Astrid, a single mother of two who’s going through some sort of crisis, with the roots of her distress only hinted at. She’s a son who appears to have spent some time in the wilderness, returning from the woods caked in dirt and with sepsis in his toes. She’s also having buyer’s regret after purchasing a bike from a friendly gentleman with an electrolarynx. She’s liable to fly off the handle at anyone for anything: her youngest daughter for making pancakes; a colleague whose film she found infuriatingly phoney.
The film’s overflowing emotions is contrasted by Schanelec’s striking, radical style, which keeps characters at somewhat of a distance through her elusive framing, elliptical editing and the slightly dazed performances. Other fragments filter in – an episode in a graveyard and a flashback to a hospital bedroom set to a haunting version of David Bowie’s Let's Dance, extended classroom performances of scenes from Hamlet – which only enrich the film and deepen its mysteries.
I previously saw I Was at Home, But… at the 2019 Berlinale. My second watch at the 2019 Berwick Film Festival confirmed it a wry masterpiece. My third watch unfortunately wasn’t on a cinema screen, as I Was at Home, But… was not picked up for theatrical distribution, but you couldn’t ask for a better home presentation than on Second Run’s beautiful Blu-ray.