I always look forward to the Chicago European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center every year – this one is their 19th annual, and it runs from March 4 – 31.
Following the fraught personal journey of a person who has been diagnosed with cancer can make for a rough film to sit through. But if it’s made with the compassionate intelligence and good humor that writer/director Slávek Horák brings to Home Care (Domácí Péče) (Czech Republic, 2015), then it’s a pretty rewarding and cathartic experience.
Vlasta (Alena Mihulová) is a home-care nurse in her small Czech village, travelling from house to house to care for her patients, sometimes at more expense for herself than her pay will compensate for. A ride would be nice, but her stingy and provincial husband won’t spare the gas, so she buses or walks. The one ride she does get one night from a friendly young neighbor results in a seemingly small traffic accident; her minor injuries, however, leads to more dire diagnosis – pancreatic cancer will claim her life in about six months. Many more things then happen than one might think Slávek Horák could keep a sensible narrative handle on, but he surveys Vlasta’s subsequent actions unerringly. Vlasta keeps working steadily and selflessly while now going to dance classes, holistic healers, the pharmacy and the cosmetics counter, and coming to terms with her emotionally reticent husband Lada (Bolek Polívka) and the daughter she rarely sees, all of which she undertakes with a unique mix of skepticism and hope.
I’m delighted to give Slávek Horák the credit that he’s due alone, but I couldn’t help but think that he must also be familiar with the work of Lee Chang-dong (Secret Sunshine, Poetry), another filmmaker whose characters are imbued with the same specific sense of graciousness in the face of despair. Alena Mihulová is a veteran Czech film actress whose work here is worth the price of admission. A few of the dramatic moments overstep into the maudlin, and a few of the jokes fall flat, but for his feature film debut after a long career in commercials, Horák has delivered an excellent film.
“Home Care” will be shown on Saturday, March 12th at 8:15 pm and Tuesday the 15th at 8:00 pm.