In Home, teachers and authority figures don’t skip a beat before upbraiding the teenagers in their charge, but writer-director Fien Troch asks us to empathize first and judge second.
In Fien Troch’s Home, misbehaving adolescents are only the plague of society on the surface. They look like adults and are expected to act like adults, but with no autonomy, teenagers are effectively helpless and at the mercy of their parents and other authority figures. If you come from a supportive, functional home like Sammy (Loïc Belleman), the world is your oyster. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of an unjust world where compassion is the last thing ever extended to you.
While adults in the film are willfully blind and quick to jump to conclusions, Troch always gives her young characters the benefit of the doubt. When the film opens, we meet Lina (Lena Suijkerbuijk) while she’s waiting for the principal, looking calm and seemingly normal. We size her up before we see her scolded and sentenced. Similarly, we know John (Mistral Guidotti) is communicating with his mother rather than merely skipping class to text — though he gets a scolding for it. While the teachers and authority figures don’t skip a beat before upbraiding the teenagers in their charge, Troch asks us to empathize first and judge second.
When Kevin (Sebastian Van Dun) returns to town after a stint in prison, he’s banished from his family home and asked to stay with his aunt Sonja (Karlijn Sileghem)— who barely tolerates him — and her family, including her son Sammy. Given a makeshift room in the basement, with empty walls and white sheets, Kevin never gets to feel at home during his coming home. But there’s an expectation that he show his gratitude even when he’s extended no affection. Although he pals around with Sammy, it’s Sammy’s friend John with whom Kevin really bonds. We learn that Kevin and his father used to argue violently, and we wonder if the violent act Kevin committed was his way of blowing off steam from their relationship. John is no stranger to abusive parents: his mother is volatile, alternating between brutally cruel and tenderly vulnerable.
Because John and Kevin lack a stable home, they have to find ways to cope. No matter how many times John tries to reach out, to Sammy’s mother or to people at school, all they see are a boy trespassing on their hospitality with a marred academic record. The more desperate he gets, the more drastic the measures he resorts to. Kevin’s problems are more internal: kept away from his younger brother, he not only feels abandoned but unmoored. He’s made enough mistakes to be cautious, but that doesn’t stop him from having sex with his cousin’s girlfriend. When the three boys get involved in a mess, only Sammy stands a chance of getting off scot free, because he has the support of his parents, of the adult world.
The film’s title draws attention to the concept of home: what does it mean and how does it rule young people’s lives? Kevin’s aunt Sonja works in a store that sells bathroom fixtures, a modernist building that provides the trappings of a home, but not the essence. Kevin may be given a place to live, but it’s barely a home. Nobody will listen to him. His uncle ignores his desire to continue his studies rather than jump headfirst into the working world; his aunt assumes he’s trouble, never bothering to notice his deep-rooted pain. In her eyes, she’s being altruistic by taking Kevin in and treating him cordially.
Mimicking the confines of the world her adolescents find themselves in, Troch shoots in the academy ratio, boxing her characters in with little width to maneuver. This has the effect of pushing the characters closer together in the frame when they interact, creating an intimacy that’s reflected in their relationships: only with their friends are they on even footing. Often, the frame gets even thinner, as Troch shows phone camera footage that her protagonists have taken of themselves. But what seems at first like tapping into the zeitgeist view that millennials are constantly and inanely self-documenting eventually reveals something deeper: if no one will listen to them besides each other, filming their lives is one of the few ways to control their narrative.
Shot mostly handheld, very much in the vein of social realism, Troch draws attention to the camera by frequently using swivels to pan between two characters, usually an authority figure and a minor. The sheer distance the camera has to travel emphasizes the almost insurmountable emotional gulf between them.
Home screened in the Platform competition at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and is still seeking North American distribution.