A credible, professionally executed chamber piece about a haute bourgeois German family splintering under the strain of the mother’s long-term mental illness, “Home for the Weekend” consistently absorbs even if it doesn’t rewrite any rule books. Pic reps a solid return to the form that distinguished “Requiem,” helmer Hans-Christian Schmid and screenwriter Bernd Lange’s first impressive collaboration, and an improvement on their not-so-hot second effort, “Storm.” Ensemble’s strong perfs as sympathetic but flawed folk and a well-structured script make this appealing, feel-sad viewing for upscale auds at home and even offshore in select niches.
Thirtysomething writer Marko Heidtmann (Lars Eidinger, “Code Blue,” “Everyone Else”) is introduced collecting his 8-year-old boy, Zowie (Egon Merten), from his former partner, Tine (Eva Meckbach), in Berlin. Father and son are traveling together to Recklinghausen, Western Germany, to visit Marko’s parents, Gitte (Corinna Harfouch, best known internationally for her chilling perf as Frau Goebbels in “Downfall”) and Guenther (Ernst Stoetzner, who works largely in legit). Marko’s younger dentist brother, Jakob (Sebastian Zimmler), greets Marko and Zowie warmly at the train station along with his own g.f., Ella (Picco Von Groote), a student in Berlin who can only see Jakob on weekends.
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Everyone gathers at Gitte and Guenther’s tastefully appointed modernist home, but it’s clear from the outset that they’re all a bit jumpy around Gitte, first met covered in acupuncture needles; it’s explained later that she has been diagnosed variously with depression or manic depression, although she seems stable now. Guenther has just sold off his publishing house for a healthy profit and is looking forward to a tranquil retirement.
Over dinner, Gitte announces that she’s been off her medication for two months and wants to stay that way. The others react to the news with varying degrees of trepidation; Marko is the most supportive, but then again, as Jakob is quick to point out, he doesn’t live nearby and have to deal directly with the next crack-up. After 30 years of coping, Guenther feels her decision has threatened his chances to work on his book, which requires an extended study trip to the Middle East, and he’d rather not take Gitte with him.
The family fractures into smaller units to argue over the ramifications of Gitte’s decision, and then reconvenes for a larger confrontation when it comes out that Jakob is having serious financial difficulties. Clearly, everyone has been tacitly conspiring for years to shield each other from feelings and secrets that might upset the fragile balance between them; Marko hasn’t even owned up to his parents that he and Tine separated six months ago. All that and more comes out now, and Gitte takes a radical step that provokes yet another crisis, forcing the three men to pull together.
Lange’s economical script doles out just enough anecdotes to color in what must have been a traumatic childhood for Marko and Jacob, who have adopted very different coping strategies. Guenther comes across at first as a dutiful, loving husband understandably fed up with having shouldered his share of the care, but later revelations paint him in a different light.
Gitte remains the most unknowable of all, and yet her quietly incandescent force of personality casts a shadow even over the last act, when she’s mostly absent from the screen. Auds are corraled into feeling on her side right up until the moment when she smashes a glass, a metonym for all the dormant violence and destruction she’s struggling to keep at bay. And yet, in the pic’s most heartbreaking moment, she settles Zowie into bed next to Marko with a deeply affecting, painfully normal display of maternal tenderness.
Schmid and Lange have nothing radically new to say about unhappiness and madness among the upper middle classes, but this is still a tale worth telling, executed with nimble filmmaking and topnotch assists from the cast. Bogumil Godfrejow’s lensing is unobtrusively clean, while a faintly unsettling, guitar-tinged score by German indie outfit the Notwist, regular collaborators with Schmid, amplifies the gradually increasing sense of unease throughout. Kudos are due to whoever it was who chose exactly the right kind of dinky French car to serve as Gitte’s vehicle, which somehow says so much about her private, quirky character.