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SEEfest was proud to be the community sponsor for the screening of I Was at Home, But… (Ich War Zuhause, Aber…) at this year’s AFI Fest.  The film by Angela Schanelec is a joint German and Serbian production and previously won the Silver Bear for Best Director award at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.  The well-attended screening was held on November 18 at the Chinese Theater.

I Was at Home, But… is an enigmatic, non-narrative film that centers on a widow, Astrid (Maren Eggert), and her two children: Phillip (Jakob Lassalle) and Flo (Clara Möller).  The film begins with a beautiful and haunting prologue featuring a donkey, dog, and rabbit shot at a location in Croatia chosen for its wild and desolate landscape.  The “story” then begins in Berlin with the return of the teenage Phillip from a week spent in the woods after running away from home. We never directly learn what motivated Phillip to run away or why he returns but scenes of domestic strain in the family allude to the continuing impact of the death of Astrid’s husband and the children’s father two years prior.

The film unfolds in a series of vignettes, which the director of photography, Ivan Markovic, has described as composed of “mostly static, clear and decided images, like tableaux or portraits.”  These interwoven portraits feature Astrid and her children; a rendition of Hamlet acted by Phillip and his classmates; and two teachers at their school who are in a romantic relationship, all of which are only loosely connected but maintain a similar tone of disquiet in their portrayal.

Some scenes do stand out for their relative impact, such as a tense conversation about truth in art between Astrid and a director, played by real-life Serbian director, Dane Komljen, or a dream-like sequence featuring Astrid visiting her late husband’s grave set to M. Ward’s cover of the David Bowie song, “Let’s Dance”, the only music used in the film.  But, for the most part, the film is characterized by a lack of narrative or explanation, and sparse but technically brilliant sound design and cinematography. In this vacuum, audience members must imagine their own “meanings” or lack thereof.

Angela Schanelec has described her aim, in this film as well as her others, as not to “recreate reality.”  Despite the lack of cinematic adornment or plot, this intention resonates throughout the film. Each scene can be puzzling, thought-provoking, or simply beautiful to look at, but none could be described as something one would see in everyday life.  If just for its ability to take you out of the normal and ask you to gaze with a quiet calm, I Was at Home, But… is a film worth viewing.


Review by Jane Li



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