I Was at Home, But … (12) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Angela Schanelec, Germany, 2019, 105 mins, subtitled

Cast: Maren Eggert, Clara Moller, Jakob Lassalle

Review by Colin Dibben

The winner of the Silver Bear Best Director award at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival makes one Berliner’s cultured middle-class life seem calm, focused and yet utterly lacking in control.

Astrid (Eggert) is a widowed mother looking after two children. She is finding it hard to cope.

Astrid buys a bike but there is something wrong with it. Astrid talks to her son’s teachers. Astrid talks to the director of a film she has seen – and expresses passionate views about the relationship between acting and real life.

Meanwhile, school children rehearse Hamlet.

The film is a series of mesmerising tableaux detailing the lives of Astrid and her children and the people they meet. Astrid’s strident articulacy and physical outbursts occur against calm, high-definition backgrounds.

Is this formal austerity or brilliant film simplicity? It is impossible to tell.

Whatever, Schanelec’s approach is effective. Although it is sometimes reminiscent of Robert Bresson’s film style (notably when the school children perform scenes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), she achieves something simpler and more emotionally engaging.

The great strength of I Was at Home, But … is that it presents everyday human life and the problems real people face – such as grief, parenting, groceries, online purchases – in a way that elides the difference between realism and arthouse mannerism. This is both.

That is quite a feat. As is the fact that Eggert’s Astrid remains sympathetic despite her more precious outbursts.

I Was at Home, But … is out on Blu-ray on 29 March.