I Was at Home, But (2019)

An unconventional if masterful portrait of a German family in existential crisis, executed in as challenging and philosophical a style as any that works like a contemporary tone poem.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Angela Schanelec
2019 | Germany | Drama | 105 mins | 1.66:1 | German
Not rated (likely to be NC16 for some coarse language)

Cast:  Maren Eggert, Franz Rogowski, Lilith Stangenberg
Plot: After a 13-year-old student disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears, his mother and teachers are confronted with existential questions that change their whole view of life.
Awards: Won Silver Bear – Best Director (Berlin)
International Sales: Deutsche Kinemathek

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex/Elliptical
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

This is to me one of the deepest, most rewarding discoveries of 2019. 

It’s funny how I’ve never quite heard of Angela Schanelec despite having loosely surveyed contemporary German cinema over the last decade or so, but if I Was at Home, But is anything to go by, she’s definitely a filmmaker to follow in the future—and also in retrospect, for she has made eight features over the last 25 years. 

The winner of Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival, Schanelec’s work here is unconventional and challenging, but audiences with a strong taste for arthouse cinema that tackles existential problems through a philosophical and poetic style will likely lap this up, even if they may be frustrated—but also hopefully—floored by its filmmaking. 

The film starts off where a more conventional film would have ended: a boy reappears after disappearing for a week, causing his mother (Maren Eggert in a superb lead performance) and school teachers to reassess their views on life and living. 

Filmed in long takes with a mix of static and tracking shots that run into elliptical ambiguity, I Was at Home, But begins coldly, its filmmaking style and performances reflecting a seemingly empty existence. 

As much as it is a masterful portrait of a German family in existential crisis, what is more extraordinary is Schanelec’s ability to slowly alter the tone of the film to one of warmth—and this despite the work having a calculated construct much like theatre.  (Speaking of which, there are also extended sequences of students rehearsing ‘Hamlet’.) 

I’ve never experienced winter to spring before, but this tone poem comes closest to how that might feel like.

Grade: A-




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