A wonderful, audacious film that challenges its audience, and serves as a brilliant debut for its lead actress and director.
Homesick (TIFF Review)
An early scene in Homesick finds the protagonist, Charlotte (Ine Wilmann), at her best friend’s wedding reception. After a series of relatively mundane conversations and wedding activities, the DJ drops the beat and many of the guests begin to let loose, and the dance floor erupts into chaos. It’s quite metaphorical of what’s to come, as Homesick is a slow-burning character study that eventually reaches an intense boiling point, but not until director Anne Sewitsky meticulously constructs some of the most uncomfortable circumstances imaginable.
Charlotte, a dance instructor who seems to be sleepwalking through her twenties, yearns for the traditional family she always dreamed of having. When Henrik (Simon J. Berger), the half-brother Charlotte had never met, unexpectedly arrives to Charlotte’s dance studio, she’s given the chance to have the familial bond she always wanted. As the two siblings get to know each other, their feelings quickly transition from friendly to sexual, and Charlotte and Henrik are forced to come to somewhat disturbing terms about their relationship.
Intelligently, Sewitsky never outright judges the characters for their incestuous tendencies. Incest is such a wildly taboo subject that the safe route would easily have been to demonize the siblings, but Sewitsky takes an almost documentarian-like stance on the matter. Strangely enough, Charlotte ends up becoming quite a sympathetic character. All she wants in life is to feel the love of her biological family; she just goes about attaining it in an unconventional way.
Wilmann is nothing short of brilliant in the lead role, and it’s hard to believe that Homesick is her first film acting experience. Naturalistic performances across the board result in some deeply flawed characters who are easy to cheer for and all too relatable at times. Thankfully, there are no caricatures or one-dimensional characters found in the film. Charlotte has plenty of issues, sure, but she’s also a contributing member of society who cracks jokes, runs her own business, and seems to love working with children. These admirable character traits make it even more impactful when her true intentions with Henrik are revealed, and we discover that the young woman has quite a few issues.
Given that the stakes aren’t particularly high—nor is there an actual physical antagonist in the film—Homesick is surprisingly suspenseful at times. It’s a different kind of sexual thriller, the tension lies in the unknown—in the future of Charlotte and Henrik’s disturbing relationship. As they grow closer, Charlotte realizes that Henrik isn’t the kind-hearted family man she expected. Instead, he’s an occasionally abusive hot head with selfish tendencies. Still, Sewistky avoids slipping into overdramatic Lifetime movie territory by keeping the story grounded and honest.
Beautiful, effective editing from Christoffer Heie helps the film keep a steady, methodical pace. Heie and Sewistky deserve major kudos for making the brilliant, albeit dangerous, decision to frequently use jarring transitions. Thankfully, almost all of these cuts make up for their lack of fluidity with a sincere, emotional outcome. There’s a certain bravery on display in the quick transitions from lighthearted scenes of Charlotte teaching young children dance routines to sweaty, grimy sequences of her having sex.
Homesick is a very different kind of story, and is sure to polarize viewers who may feel uncomfortable with its incestuous subject matter. But those who approach it with an open mind are sure to be able to appreciate the immense technical skill that is put on display from start to finish. Homesick is a wonderful, audacious film that challenges its audience, and serves as a brilliant debut for its lead actress and director.