Czech filmmakers have always had a knack for capturing both the humorous and poignant sides of life within the nation's villages, a fact further evidenced by this beautifully designed and acted entry in the 25th Anniversary Heartland Film Festival opening tonight in Indianapolis with a far more commercial screening, the Jessica Biel starrer The Book of Love.
While Home Care may not be destined for a box-office bonanza here in the U.S., it's a bit of a shame as writer/director Slavek Horak has crafted a true indie gem with his directorial debut and it deserves all the audiences we can find for it.
In the film, Vlasta (Alena Mihulova) is a 50-ish home care nurse who works the Moravian countryside with a Florence Nightingale-like dedication to her patience and an equally sacrificial attitude toward her own care and needs. Always the one to take care of everyone, including her modestly distant but not uncaring spouse Lada (Boleslav Polivka), Vlasta's ability to disregard her own needs is put to the test in a way that requires everyone that she's ever taken care of to step out of their comfort zones and more fully into her life.
MIhulova, who picked up a Best Actress prize for her performance here at the acclaimed Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, gives a performance that is both aching with vulnerability and utterly fearless as she travels through the stages of grief. In a more perfect world, we'd be hearing Mihulova's name come awards season but, of course, American moviegoers and industry pros lack that kind of imagination.
Home Care may very well be the first film since PT Anderson's Magnolia in which frogs play an absolutely vital role, though it's a heck of a lot more clear here exactly what it all means.
Horak, a veteran of commercial work, has crafted a film that feels intimate and warm, honest and true mostly owing to the fact that it's inspired by stories from his mother, a real life home care nurse. It doesn't exactly hurt that Horak shot the film in and around his own hometown of Zlin and actually shot in his own parents' home, garden and workshop among other spots.
While Mihulova is clearly the film's centerpiece, one must give kudos to Horak's entire ensemble cast. Polivka plays Lada as a man who always has something beneath that gruff exterior, a man not so secretly envious of his wife's fierce devotion to her patience yet, even deeper than that irritable jealousy, Lada's a man who longs for that kind of connection and shows just the right amount of humanity amidst all those things that make you mumble to yourself "Why is she with that ass?"
Tatiana Vilhelmova gives a tremendous performance as Mlada, the daughter of one of Vlasta's patients whose ability to be spiritually attuned to illness provides an emotional and spiritual contrast to Vlasta's more scientific approach to illness.
Mihulova is a critically acclaimed Czech actress who is married to Karel Kachyna, one of Czech's most acclaimed filmmakers. Infrequently seen on the big screen, Mihulova's work here with Vilhelmova is a longtime dream for Vilhelmova and one can sense that camaraderie, respect and trust in their performances. While the entire film is wonderful, it truly lights up when these two take over the screen.
Jan Stastny's lensing is warm, comfortable and intimate while costumes from Natalie Steklova feel as rich and authentic as the rest of the film.
Home Care is a finalist in the Narrative Feature category at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival and will screen eight times, EIGHT TIMES, during the festival. You won't want to miss this film. Check the Heartland Festival Guide for details.
RICHARD's NOTE: Home Care took home the Heartland Film Festival's top prize of Best Narrative Feature along with the $45,000 cash award!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic