Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Ich Factor: "The Summer House" (2015)



This uncomfortable look at the disintegration of a modern German family is full of malaise and Bergmanesque ruminations on isolation. Peel away the frou-frou, and what you are left with is the story of reprehensible characters who get everything they deserve.

Markus (Sten Jacobs) works in construction with business partner Christopher (Stephan Burgi). I have read that they are architects, but the film doesn't really tell us what they do on projects. Christopher owes over 100,000 Euros thanks to some shady dealings, and Markus agrees to pay some of the tax bill, but not all of it. Christopher tells his son Johannes (Jaspar Fuld) to be nice to his schoolmate, and Markus' daughter, Elisabeth (Nina Splettstober), not realizing that the burgeoning friendship between the two twelve year olds isn't what Christopher should be worrying about. Markus is having an affair with another man (meeting up for a quickie while Elisabeth waits in the car). Markus' wife is Christine (Anna Altmann), a morose woman with a permanently pained facial expression who never seems to leave the apartment the family shares.

Markus eyes Johannes, and invites him to their summer house, a small cottage surrounded by a claustrophobic garden on the outskirts of the city. Markus is grooming Johannes, and trying to juggle his marital problems with Christine. Elisabeth is the victim of Christine's increasingly suicidal nervous breakdown, and Burz forces us to watch the trio watch each other.

Maybe if this family had been semi-normal to begin with, then their eventual downfall would have been more effective. Markus and Christine are vile, exhibiting behavior that the viewer will find repulsive. I might have had some sympathy for Markus and Christine if they didn't engage in partner sexual swapping with Christopher and his girlfriend Anne (a, sadly, clothed Natascha Zimmermann), or Christine wouldn't put her head in a noose while her young daughter watched. Call it what you want, or excuse it how you want, but Markus is a child molester. You simply cannot hope things get better for him as he begins to cover his crimes thanks to Johannes popping into his life at the worst times.

Despite the subject matter, the cast does very well with what they are given. Christine and Elisabeth speak English to each other, so Elisabeth can get into a good school, and their "secret language" is a nice touch (as is Markus' reaction to it). Even in the halting English scenes, Altmann and Splettstober score, and I thought their interaction worked better than anything else here.

Burz did a lot of things- writing, directing, producing, editing; and the film is inexpensive but looks professional and fantastic. The cinematography is bright and beautiful (the characters are dark and gloomy...yes, we get it), and the mournful Chopin-like piano score is appropriate. Burz introduces a thriller element too late in the film, it feels clumsy and added-on, and I feel like his screenplay isn't so much a study of a family in crisis as a study of a family doing things to make you squirm. Burz doesn't try to shock like Larry Clark does, but he comes close.

"The Summer House" is a misstep in Artsploitation Films' canon. This is not rated by the MPAA, but contains profanity, nudity, sexual content, and very strong adult situations. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Summer House

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