When violence isn’t a choice: Coming-of-age film tells it like it is
The new movie by Flemish director Fien Troch is a daring and honest portrayal of the difficulties of being a teenager
Home is where the heart aches
Now in her late 30s, the Flemish director (pictured) has built a career on films that explore tensions in families. In her 2005 debut, Someone Else’s Happiness, it was a community dealing with the death of a child, while in Unspoken (2008) a marriage is split in two by a daughter’s disappearance.
In 2012’s Kid, a small boy must come to terms with losing his mother’s love. Home, which is out this week, progresses to the difficult teenage years.
After a false start striking up random conversations at the local skate park (“Just sitting there and trying to talk to teenagers is quite impossible”), Troch set in train a process that combined casting and research into the contemporary teen. Rather than focusing on performance, the casting sessions discussed how the youngsters saw life in general and what their reactions were to films their peers put on YouTube.
The real you
This already helped refine the script, but also pointed her towards people who would fit into the story she wanted to tell. “I couldn’t use teenagers who were watching television every evening with their parents and being model children,” she says. “That’s great, but I was looking for something else. In my film, they would have to use a lot of the experiences they had in real life.”
That said, all of them proved they could act, bringing their own insights into the reality of being a millennial teenager to the story that Troch wanted to tell.
It’s this psychological thing, where you hate somebody but love them so much that you cover it all up
Seventeen-year-old Kevin (Sebastian Van Dun) is just out of jail, but cannot go back to his parents’ house because of ongoing fights with his father. So his aunt, Sonja (Karlijn Sileghem), adds him to her family.
There he makes tentative bonds with their son Sammy (Loïc Batog), his girlfriend Lina (Lena Suijkerbuijk) and John (Mistral Guidotti), a school friend with a controlling mother.
In addition to the everyday tensions of this extended family, there are stronger currents that come from Kevin’s violent past (captured in true millennial style on a mobile phone) and the revelation that John is not just under the thumb but being seriously abused.
John’s story was inspired by a real case in the US. “It’s not that I felt an urge to make the world see this kind of problem,” she says. “It’s more about this psychological thing, where you hate somebody but love them so much that you cover it all up.”
Just say ‘No’
It’s also an exploration, she says, of “how something becomes a system in your life, and you can’t get out of it, even though it would be very simple to get out of it just by saying ‘No’”.
The extremes of this plot line are handled in the same matter-of-fact way as the violence in Kevin’s story or the sexual aspects of teenage life. “We decided to film in a documentary style – we are always there, it is really happening – and I realised that if I show the violence it feels natural to show the rest. It felt like cheating just to leave the room at a certain point.”
Even if the filming is never exploitative, the results are still shocking. But that is unavoidable. “If I dare to talk about this, then I must dare to show it as well,” Troch says.
Alongside Troch’s career interest in families, she has started a family of her own, and her young son even has a small role in Home. So, is she looking forward to him turning into a teenager? “Yes and no,” she says. “A bit afraid, maybe.”
The main thing that she realised during the film is, “Hell, it’s really difficult to raise a teenager! And the only thing I will have to say to my own son is that I don’t really know how to do this, either. I will try to guide him, at the same time knowing... I don’t know who you are, or how you really feel.”
Photo: Filip Van Roe
Limiting what the viewer knows about a situation is a hallmark of Fien Troch’s cinema. Her previous film, Kid, gave us the child-eye view of a fractured family. Now, in Home, we are on the outside looking in on the mysterious world of the teenager.
Initially, this seems to confirm our worst fears. These young people are truculent and rude, uncommunicative and potentially violent. Absorbed in their phones, they are utterly unreadable.
Yet gradually their personal qualities emerge. Sometimes this is done subtly, a matter of a glance or a gesture, sometimes it is a shock that radically changes our understanding of the situation. This is not a film that pulls its punches.
It is also not out to apologise for its characters. Kevin is violent, but eventually we see that he doesn’t want to be. We also see the bonds within the group, friendships John can count on when his life finally melts down.
The young cast is fantastic and more than capable of holding the screen. But as a bonus there are pleasing cameos from better-known Flemish actors: Natali Broods as a teacher, Kevin Janssens throwing some punches and Jeroen Perceval doing some plumbing.
Although thematically connected with Troch’s previous films, Home marks a distinct change in style. A square image format contributes a documentary atmosphere, and the hand-held camerawork has a looser feel than before, sometimes harmonising with dropped-in mobile phone footage.
The inspiration she cites is American documentary veteran Frederick Wiseman, yet the subject matter means there is also an unavoidable echo of Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark. (In Dutch) ★★★★
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