Still from The House (2011) — Image via domfilm.sk

The House

Directed by Zuzana Liová (2011)

The House (Dom), a recent Slovak film written and directed by Zuzana Liová, offers a nuanced take on the familiar coming-of-age genre, setting itself apart with carefully drawn characters confronting non-ideal circumstances in intriguing but believable ways.

Eva (Judit Bárdos) lives in a rural village — the sort of place where life revolves around the church and the bar — with her parents, Imrich (Miroslav Krobot) and Viera (Tatjana Medvecká). Eva and Imrich both commute every day to a smallish city nearby, where she is in her last year of high school and he works as a foreman at a water bottling plant. Eva’s attendance record at school is actually fairly spotty, but that apparently doesn’t stop her from being regarded as one of the brighter students in her class — and the person to go to when you are prepared to pay another student to write one of your papers for you.

Still from The House (2011) — Image via domfilm.skImrich has plans for Eva. He wants her to go to college, but afterward, he wants her to return to her hometown. To facilitate this, he is building a house for her next door. A few years ago, he made a similar effort on behalf of Eva’s older sister, Jana (Lucia Jasková), but Jana rebelled by getting pregnant and marrying the buffoonish grandson of the man who was responsible for getting Imrich’s father arrested during the Warsaw Pact regime. In response, Imrich disowned her, and he has now focused his attention on Eva.

Unsurprisingly, Eva is not on board with Imrich’s plan. Instead of going to college, she wants to move to London and work as an au pair. Unbeknownst to her parents, she has already started advertising her services online and saving up money to make the trip. In the meantime, she enters into a relationship with Jakub (Marian Mitas), a man of around 30 who has recently moved to town.

None of this unfolds exactly as one might expect. For one thing, Eva is not the stereotypical petulant teenager. She comes across as intelligent and thoughtful, and one gets the sense that, however frustrated she may be by her father’s insistence on planning her future for her, she understands his behavior to some extent and is not looking forward to letting him down. Her thoughtfulness does not, however, stop her from making decisions that will make many viewers cringe. And Imrich, though he often fills the familiar role of the overbearing father, is clearly motivated not only by a desire for Eva to have a real future but also a practical understanding that securing that future will not be easy.

Still from The House (2011) — Image via domfilm.skMuch of the film is driven by Imrich and Eva’s competing notions of freedom. For Imrich, freedom means being self-sufficient, not in debt to anyone else, and not tempted by false promises of easy money. For Eva, freedom means experiencing more than she is capable of experiencing in her village or even her country, even if this means neglecting her education to become a servant. None of this is terribly new or novel, but the film excels in portraying — without descending into miserabilism or melodrama — the barriers that may stand in the way of Eva actualizing either of these ideals.

These situations are portrayed with fair doses of both sympathy and humor. Krobot — a well-known theater actor and director — has been called a Czech Buster Keaton for his straight-faced acting style, which goes a long way toward making a compelling character out of Imrich. The other actors take similarly restrained approaches, letting us into their characters gently. And the house itself is a memorable character, with its multicolored bricks and slow but steady growth over the course of the film.

At a time when both fictional accounts and media portrayals of “choices” and particularly “women’s choices” are often extremely simplistic and divorced from the reality of the vast majority of people’s lives (as evidenced by the recent controversy over the work history of millionaire Ann Romney), The House is a worthwhile and engaging portrayal of characters who must make their choices in the context of a more complex and constrained reality.

Originally posted on The 400 Blows

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.