Domov (Home)

Review: Margareta Hruza's intimate family documentary

Review by Jason Pirodsky

An intimate, personal journey, Margareta Hruza´s Domov (Home) follows the director as she attempts to explore the disintegration of her family and find her own place in life. It´s a small-scale film, but the themes are universal: the search for that place to call home, and the return to the place that once was. While the present-day footage in the film can occasionally seem artificial, Hruza eventually taps into a powerful emotional core; the result is a touching, poignant film that most of us can relate to.

In 1969, Hruza´s parents Luboš and Madla fled the Czech Republic as Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. They immigrated to Norway, worked in theater, had a child, and lived, apparently, in harmony. When Margareta was 14, her mother decided to send her to the US. They never lived together as a family after that; her parents separated, and as the daughter came back to Europe, Madla moved to Los Angeles and Luboš returned to Prague. Home is the director´s attempt to reconcile her feelings about her family, and find her place in life.

Domov (Home)
Directed by Margareta Hruza. Photography by Petr Koblovský and Jakub Šimůnek. Editing by Lucie Haladová, Tonička Janková. Music by Dominik Renč.
Official Site

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Hruza visits her mother in Los Angeles, and her father in Prague, before bringing them together to their old house in Norway: she wants to move back in to her childhood home, which has been kept as it was decades ago, and needs her parents to clear out their old things. Of course, revisiting the old memories is painful – her father, in particular, seems quite distressed. One feels that Margareta wants to see her parents back together, and that Luboš and Madla still have feelings for each other; reasons for the breakup aren´t explored in-depth, but a sense of finalization seems to have washed over the parents – as if nothing can, or will, change. Scenes of this broken family at the dinner table are quietly moving.

Interestingly, the film doesn´t appear to be shot as a typical documentary; it often comes across as a fictional expose in the Dogme ’95 vein. Characters never address the camera or even seem to recognize its existence; even tertiary ones, like Madla´s boyfriend in Los Angeles, appear not to be aware they´re being filmed; one assumes, at the very least, that they have been instructed how to act, or their scenes have been (heavily) selectively edited. The younger Hruza is not our host, but rather a character in her own story, asking her parents questions not as an interviewer, but as a daughter. Some scenes, such as a mother-daughter chat on the dunes of a Californian desert, feel entirely staged.

And yet, the film benefits from this style; a straightforward documentary on the same subject likely would have come across as trite and intrusive, whereas here we come to accept it as a kind of slice of life – even if we sometimes question the lines between fact and fiction in the storytelling.

The film is also greatly aided by old photographs and home movies; while sparse, the use of these images here reminded me of Jonathan Caouette´s Tarnation, an excellent documentary focusing on the director´s mother comprised almost solely of photos, Super-8, and other ‘found´ images and audio. While the present-day footage in Home often blurs the line between natural and scripted, the images from the past ring inescapably true, providing the film an emotional heart and its most prevalent theme: the inability to return to better times.

The film is perfectly assembled – at just shy of an hour, the story never loses our interest or wears out its welcome. Camerawork is better than one might expect it to be, though perhaps detrimental to the film as a whole; some shots tend to call attention to themselves and bring us out of the intimate story.

Home is playing with English subtitles from 7-10.2.08 at Bio Oko.

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