(A.k.a. DE NAERMESTE)
Aspiring young cellist Jessica (Esther Maria Pietsch) and her beau Lorenz (Matthias Lier) move into a spacious Berlin apartment. It needs some work on the decoration front, but the place is impressively big considering their budget. The move-in coincides with the exciting news that Jessica has been handpicked to compete in an upcoming, prestigious music contest in Moscow.
But the couple's celebrations are short-lived.
On their first evening, they manage to piss off the neighbours in the flat above them by playing their music too loud, and go round grovelling the morning after. They're met at the door by the stand-offish Hilde (Tatja Seibt) who nevertheless accepts their apology and forces upon them a welcoming gift: a rather hideous-looking ceramic cherub.
Back in their apartment, Jessica is perturbed that the way the tenement block is designed dictates that Hilde and her husband can see right into her flat. Lorenz offers to buy curtains; Jessica declines, reasoning that their lives are so boring that no-one would wish to spy on them anyway.
Lorenz introduces a pet cat, Pikachu, into the home - which Jessica takes less than kindly to. She also not overly pleased when he casually mentions an ex-girlfriend during a dinner party.
When Jessica returns to the flat one afternoon following a less-than-stellar session with her music tutor, she's shocked to find a fresh turd waiting on her doormat. She suspects Hilde but has no proof.
These strange occurrences continue - unexplained noises in the night, a disconcerting visit from the local undertakers - and Jessica is losing sleep as a result. Her relationship with Lorenz is suffering. Even worse, so are her rehearsals for the impending contest.
Could it be that, as Jessica suspects, the upstairs neighbours have a vendetta against her? Or is she cracking up due to the pressures brought about by the competition, her never-impressed father, her new home, her well-intended but rather wet boyfriend etc?
HOMESICK has unsurprisingly been likened to the cinema of both Roman Polanski and Michael Haneke.
The Polanski comparisons are obvious, with his Holy trinity of REPULSION, ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE TENANT being clear inspirations for writer-director Jakob M Erwa. The sense of paranoid claustrophobia which comes from his keen insight into urban isolation is tapped into shrewdly here, us never truly knowing whether we're witnessing the lead protagonist's mental decline ... or something far more sinister. There's a great scene where Jessica and Hilde are sat beside one another on a settee. The body language and facial expressions as they assess each other is priceless; more so, this scene registers so strongly because at that point the viewer can't decide who their loyalties should lie with.
HOMESICK also taps into Polanski's astute reading of female characters; here, we're invited to share in Jessica's trepidations over measuring up to a complacent patriarchal figure, proving herself in competition, and ultimately determining herself as home-maker once the threat of that position becoming undermined by neighbours comes into play.
Haneke gets a mention thanks to the understated approach to the unfurling drama and naturalistic performances of the players. There's also a bare minimum of musical score, which is very like the Austrian auteur's style: the camera simply rests and watches in silence as the uncomfortable action unfolds.
On a more contemporary front, the likes of YOU BELONG TO ME, THE UPSTAIRS NEIGHBOUR and especially the thematically similar NEXT DOOR spring to mind.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with special mention deserving to Pietsch. She's at equal turns vulnerable, fragile, resilient (once she believes her neighbours are trying to shoo her from her apartment, she digs her heels in) and frighteningly unhinged. Seibt is a plausible adversary - at once benign and yet possessing a curiously sinister glint in her eye at all times.
Christian Trieloff's spacious cinematography likes the wide shots, which make great use of the decaying Berlin building used as the film's sole location. The film looks oppressive, in a good way.
There are a few cliched touches: the cat is only introduced to inevitably go missing at a later juncture, thus causing even greater paranoia; the laundry room, naturally, has to be located in the tenement block's dingy basement, where the lights flicker on and off ...
And the final act is disappointingly predictable. Until, that is ... no, I'm not going to say. You'll need to see it for yourselves!
HOMESICK is presented uncut (95 minutes and 37 seconds in length) on Matchbox Films' UK DVD.
Letterboxed in its original 2.35:1 ratio, the film's transfer is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. It looks great here, given that the visual elan is intentionally drab in order to reflect the oppressive surroundings closing in on the increasingly pressured Jessica. Colours are muted in production and the transfer stays true to this, but we still get a bold, sharp and clean proposition with fine detail and solid blacks.
The German 1.0 audio is likewise a reliable, problem-free track. English subtitles are burned-in, but are thankfully well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu proffers access to the film by way of 16 chapters.
Alongside the film's original 2-minute trailer, we also get a most welcome onscreen interview with Erwa. Although this featurette is a mere 5 minutes in length, he speaks rapidly enough to cover plenty of ground - including the benefits of securing finances via crowd-funding, the importance of good casting and how he was attracted to making a movie which crossed over into various genres. In German with English subtitles.
HOMESICK treads a familiar path but does so in a refreshingly sombre, naturalistic manner. The Haneke and Polanski comparisons may be lazy but in this instance they turn out to be entirely apt. If you like your thrillers slow-burning and, for the large part, ambiguous, this will be right up your alley.
I enjoyed it a lot.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Matchbox Films|