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August 27, 2015

The Summer House

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Das Sommerhaus
Curtis Burz - 2014
Artsploitation Films Region 1 DVD

Watching The Summer House is like watching something like a car crash in slow motion. You know that several vehicles are going to collide, it is something inevitable, but what is not known is how bad the damage will be. Some of the elements here are classic, the family torn apart by the presence of an outsider has been told many times. The adult male with the attraction to a young boy plays in part like a contemporary version of Death in Venice.

The film is also a study in dualities. The husband is established as a closeted gay man. It is suggested that the wife seeks some sexual gratification outside the marriage as well. The daughter, junior high school age, speaks German with her father, English with her mother. The outsider, the son of the husband's business partner, not yet 12 years old, has his own agenda. The action largely takes place between two locations, the family's apartment in Berlin, and the summer house, in an area with an abundance of foliage. It is never made clear how far the two places are from each other, but it is enough of a distance to allow activity unknown to others.

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Where supplements are helpful is when director Curtis Burz explains how his film was largely improvised, following establishment of the basic premise. How this works in the film's favor is that certain part of the narrative are kept open for interpretation. This is especially important in a scene with the husband and the boy, in the summer house. The two plan to spend the night together, the camera pans to left, away from the shelter and to the lush vegetation in the area, while their conversation is still heard. In an earlier scene, the boy bolts away from the husband when he receives a small kiss on the cheek. Still, the boy visits the husband on a regular basis at the summer house. The exact nature of the relationship is never made clear so that we never know if the husband has actually acted on his desires. There may also be the question of who was actually the seducer or the seduced?

The daughter, not yet an adolescent, is starting to question what it means to be a female. In one scene, she attempts to try putting on some of her mother's make-up. The mother constantly denies the daughter the chance to play, suggesting that whatever sense of denial she is dealing with is to be passed on to the younger generation. Whatever affection the wife seeks from the husband seems to be played out in the warm relationship between father and daughter.

Burz admits that there are elements in his film that are uncomfortable and challenging, even for himself. The cast is largely made up of actors who have worked with Burz previously, with all of them, even the children, discussing their respective roles as well as having a hand in determining the story arc. It is remarkable that had it not been explained in Burz's interview, I would never have guessed that this film was improvised, especially with an ending that brings up some very unexpected implications.

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Posted by peter at August 27, 2015 11:27 AM