Wryly humorous and bittersweet, “Home Care” is an appealing humanist tale that puts a poignant spin on that perennial staple of the Czech cinema, the village dramedy. The action centers on a dedicated home-care nurse in the South Moravian countryside who puts everyone else’s needs before her own. When there comes a time that the carer herself needs care, the protagonist, her family and patients must all leave their comfort zones. Beautifully written and performed, Slavek Horak’s writing-directing debut is a potential tonic for specialty arthouse distribs; further fest action is guaranteed.
Vivacious, 50-ish Vlasta (Alena Mihulova) travels all over the countryside, visiting a variety of charmingly eccentric patients, and dispensing compassion and conventional medicine in equal measure. Even though she is on the go for long hours, Vlasta also takes on the lion’s share of the work at the cozy home she shares with hubby Lada (Boleslav Polivka). He has plenty of time to potter about his workshop because he never has to lift a finger in the kitchen (apart from pouring schnapps) and has no clue how to operate the washing machine or stove.
Vlasta’s attentiveness enables Lada to be a typical old-school male, not particularly attuned to his spouse’s emotional or physical needs. Sometimes, he even resents the extra time she puts in with her patients and refuses to provide transport to and from distant house calls. As in the best village dramedies from the likes of Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel and more recently Bohdan Slama, Horak here neatly captures the details of small-town life through piquant observation. Even the local frogs have a significant part to play.
After Vlasta accepts a ride one rainy night from the local motorcyclist known as “Speedy,” it sets the stage for a shift in the action. It’s difficult to discuss what follows without spoilers; suffice it to say that it paves the way for Horak’s underlying theme: an examination of what is important in life and the finality of human existence. Now Vlasta, whose entire life was devoted to saving others, must find salvation for herself.
Her journey to self-knowledge and self-actualization is sparked by her friendship with Mlada (Tatiana Vilhelmova), the daughter of one of her patients; she’s a sensitive woman who leads the rational nurse on an exploration of spirituality and alternative medicine. As Vlasta passes through stages of grief, denial, anger, depression and acceptance, the action always feels emotionally honest, the comedy never pandering. And despite being about illness, the film is always life-affirming. Horak’s likable actors seem to have clearly enjoyed working with one another, and they seize into the director’s pithy dialogue with relish. In a meaty and rewarding role, Mihulova’s fearless performance is a continuous treat.
Although the 40-year-old Horak comes from the realm of commercials, he creates a very authentic and personal world, inspired by stories told by his mother, herself a home-care nurse. Moreover, he deepens the credibility factor by setting it in and around his hometown of Zlin, shooting in his parents’ house, workshop, garden and vineyard — no production designer necessary. Lensing by d.p. Jan Stastny creates an intimate atmosphere; the rest of the craft package is fine.