Angela Schanaelec’s third film I Was at Home, But… begins with a sequence of natural drama between animals, before transitioning to the film’s primary human characters. It’s a prelude for the rest of the film, deftly introducing us to the situation at hand. Widowed single mother Astrid (Maren Eggert) is struggling to keep it together, for what are, at least at the beginning, undefined reasons. Her oldest son Phillip (Jakob Lassalle) has just returned from living in the woods for a week, which ended with an amputated toe. As the film progresses, Astrid lashes out at the world in bizarre ways, including kicking her children out of the apartment and fighting with a man over a used bike he to sold her; thanks to a jammed back wheel. 

It’s a small, hushed film that moves with the speed of a sloth, in which Schanaelec finds rhythm in the stillness of images. She and her actors craft a tale of one woman’s inability to reconnect back with modern life in the light of tragedy, and her refusal to move on. Eggert is masterful in her role, providing a stubborn soul and a sense of quiet defiance in the face of rejoining society. In the midst of family drama, her children rehearse Shakespeare’s Hamlet at their school. Phillip has more in common with the Danish prince than what might appear at the surface, but the film is ultimately not a sad elegy by any means. In fact, it’s rather comedic at times, and Schanaelec wisely uses humor to keep the film from drowning in its own seriousness. A mysterious cinematic puzzle box, I Was at Home, But… is a film worth exploring; especially when the viewer can unlock its hidden secrets by themselves.

I Was at Home, But… screened at this year’s 55th Chicago International Film Festival, as part of the Expanded Visions, Global Currents, and Women in Cinema programs. The film will screen again on October 20th at 4:00pm at AMC River East 21.

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