Review by Sean Boelman
The Forum section at Berlinale is always a showcase for some of the most formally intriguing films on the festival circuit, and Miryam Charles’s This House is definitely quite engaging. And while it is definitely interesting from a stylistic standpoint, it suffers from a lot of issues common to directorial debuts.
The film follows a family still reeling ten years after the mysterious death of a teenager, initially suspected to be a suicide but later deemed to be something else. On paper, this sounds like this is going to be some sort of procedural drama, but it’s really something much more meditative and somber.
There is a very loose nature to Charles’s narrative, and that both works for and against the film. On one hand, it feels like we are experiencing the very visceral emotions of these characters, but it can also be somewhat hard to follow at times because of its threadbare yet surrealist approach.
It also feels like the film doesn’t explore its themes with as much depth as it could have. There is some praise to be had here for the film having some subtlety, but when that subtlety approaches unintentional ambiguity, it becomes a problem. The script of the film makes an attempt to be poetic, but it doesn’t always amount to substance.
That said, the film does an excellent job with its character development. It surprisingly gets us invested into this mother-daughter relationship in a way that is very compelling. Given that the film is a journey through these characters’ emotions, it makes sense that the character development is one of the main successes, because that’s what makes it resonate.
Nadine Jean and Schelby Jean-Baptiste do an exceptional job in their roles. They are performances that feel very authentic and lived-in, selling every bit of the emotion in the story. Jean-Baptiste gives the more unorthodox of the two performances, with an emphasis on the more abstract elements of expression.
The area in which the film impresses the most is its visual style. Charles shows a great command of the craft, also serving as one of the directors of photography of the film. And while the film is very minimalistic in its execution, the imagery that Charles creates is so powerful that it overcomes its limitations.
This House isn’t as fully-developed as it needed to be in order to be entirely successful, but the potential that Charles shows in it as a director is astounding. It’s one of those films that works better as a testament to its creator’s talents than as a self-contained work in its own right.
This House screened at the 2022 Berlin Film Festival.