The Summer House 2014
Das Sommerhaus (origina title)
1h 35min | Drama | 15 April 2014 (Germany)
The Larsens are a picture perfect family from the German upper-middle class. They have everything that means comfort and should mean happiness. Business success, a stylish, light-flooded home and a full scholarship for their daughter to study in England. However, the head of the family, Markus, an architect, lives a secret, bisexual double life as his wife Christine and their eleven-year-old daughter Elisabeth drown in unendurable loneliness. Markus realizes that he has a strong yearning for one of his daughter’s school friends, Johannes, 12, also the son of his tax penalty-bedeviled business partner, Christopher. He succeeds in getting closer to Johannes and binds the boy to himself with ever-increasing intensity. His wife is desperately aware of the emotional distance of her husband, but only her daughter Elizabeth, reacting to the sexually laden atmosphere, sees through the lies and secrets that she instinctively knows to be an growing, disruptive threat to the entire family. As Markus loses control of the situation and in a final moment of strength, pushes Johannes away, the action nevertheless moves them all remorselessly into the abyss.
This uncomfortable look at the disintegration of a modern German family is full of malaise and Bergmanesque ruminations on isolation. Peel away the frou-frou, and what you are left with is the story of reprehensible characters who get everything they deserve.
Markus (Sten Jacobs) works in construction with business partner Christopher (Stephan Burgi). I have read that they are architects, but the film doesn’t really tell us what they do on projects. Christopher owes over 100,000 Euros thanks to some shady dealings, and Markus agrees to pay some of the tax bill, but not all of it. Christopher tells his son Johannes (Jaspar Fuld) to be nice to his schoolmate, and Markus’ daughter, Elisabeth (Nina Splettstober), not realizing that the burgeoning friendship between the two twelve year olds isn’t what Christopher should be worrying about. Markus is having an affair with another man (meeting up for a quickie while Elisabeth waits in the car). Markus’ wife is Christine (Anna Altmann), a morose woman with a permanently pained facial expression who never seems to leave the apartment the family shares.
Markus eyes Johannes, and invites him to their summer house, a small cottage surrounded by a claustrophobic garden on the outskirts of the city. Markus is grooming Johannes, and trying to juggle his marital problems with Christine. Elisabeth is the victim of Christine’s increasingly suicidal nervous breakdown, and Burz forces us to watch the trio watch each other.
Maybe if this family had been semi-normal to begin with, then their eventual downfall would have been more effective. Markus and Christine are vile, exhibiting behavior that the viewer will find repulsive. I might have had some sympathy for Markus and Christine if they didn’t engage in partner sexual swapping with Christopher and his girlfriend Anne (a sadly clothed Natascha Zimmermann), or Christine wouldn’t put her head in a noose while her young daughter watched. Call it what you want, or excuse it how you want, but Markus is a child molester. You simply cannot hope things get better for him as he begins to cover his crimes thanks to Johannes popping into his life at the worst times.
Despite the subject matter, the cast does very well with what they are given. Christine and Elisabeth speak English to each other, so Elisabeth can get into a good school, and their “secret language” is a nice touch (as is Markus’ reaction to it). Even in the halting English scenes, Altmann and Splettstober score, and I thought their scenes worked better than anything else here.
Burz did a lot of things here (writing, directing, producing, editing), and the film is inexpensive but looks professional and fantastic. The cinematography is bright and beautiful (and the characters are dark and gloomy…yes, we get it), and the mournful Chopin-like piano score is appropriate. Burz introduces a thriller element too late in the film, it feels clumsy and added on, and I feel like his screenplay isn’t so much a study of a family in crisis as a study of a family doing things to make you squirm. Burz doesn’t try to shock like Larry Clark does, but he comes close.
Director: Curtis Burz
Writer: Curtis Burz
Stars: Sten Jacobs, Anna Altmann, Jaspar Fuld
Language: German | English
Release Date: 15 April 2014 (Germany)
Also Known As: The Summer House
Filming Locations: Berlin, Germany
Format : MPEG-4
Format profile : Base Media
Codec ID : isom (isom/avc1/mp42)
File size : 1.69 GiB
Duration : 1 h 40 min
Overall bit rate mode : Variable
Overall bit rate : 2 397 kb/s