What does home mean when you live thousands of miles from your native country? This question gets a boisterous, comic examination in Filippos Tsitos' "My Sweet Home". In the film, a bargain-basement wedding shower in a scruffy Berlin cafe turns into a wild night of alcoholic self-scrutiny by a collection of expatriates who happen to drop by.
"Home" is a classic co-production. This German-Greek collaboration, directed by a Greek who lives in Berlin, features actors from throughout the world, including the United States, Germany, Portugal, Russia, India, Algeria and Japan. The music is Balkanized Western European, and the comedy is international.
The movie is certain to provoke huge laughs in Berlin, where mispronunciations and in-jokes add to the comedy. But the story could take place in any large, multiethnic city where ex-pats wake up each morning and wonder what the hell they're doing there. This gem, screened in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival, is ripe for export as long as distributors don't get turned off to the low budget and a mostly unfamiliar cast.
Most of the film occurs on the eve of the wedding of Bruce (Harvey Friedman
), an American drifter, and his German girlfriend of one month, Anke (Nadja Uhl
). A polterabend, or wedding shower -- called a "poltergeist" by one foreigner -- begins in a cafe where Bruce works as a waiter. No real guests come by -- only a group of strangers -- and their one acquaintance, Anke's disapproving mother (Monika Hansen
), who turns up uninvited, is thrown out by Anke.
Along with the miffed proprietor (Mario Mentrup
), who wanted to go to Los Angeles with Bruce were he to return home, are a married Brazilian student about to be deported, two Russian street musicians who steal from each other, a young Asian woman unhappy in her marriage to an aging German, a Moroccan construction worker romancing a Greek woman in hopes of settling down at her father's resort hotel and a defeated East Berliner who reminiscences about the "glory" days of the Wall.
Bruce slips away to mull his hasty decision to marry and encounters a Pakistani man angry at everyone and a cab driver whose claim to lead a highly organized life is suspect.
Back at the cafe, one ex-pat challenges the next to place a long-distance call home and admit his failure. This catches on as a game of dare. Accompanying the celebration of misery is the Balkan All-Star Band, which cheerfully plays music to fit each moment's dramatic event -- a chase around the tables, a near-fistfight or dances between new partners that enrage old partners.
As the celebration builds, Tsitos probes the isolation and need for community that all of the ex-pats feel. The movie becomes a comic and even an existential version of "Casablanca", where international refugees are trapped in jobs and situations on foreign soil but can hope for no exit visas and truly have nowhere to go. The dream that spurred everyone to go abroad has long been forgotten as everyone lives a life of ad-libs and compromises that suit no final purpose.
Performances are uniformly strong. Friedman is a marvel at comic ambivalence, while Uhl shines as a woman tired of being wary and determined to start afresh.
The cafe set never feels claustrophobic thanks to Hanno Lentz
's energetic cinematography and Petar Markovic
and Nebojsa Stanojevic
's rhythmic editing. "Home" is Tsitos' graduation work from the German Film and Television Academy. Give this guy his diploma.
MY SWEET HOME
Twenty Twenty Vision, Pandora Film
and Ideefixe Prods.
in collaboration with ZDF-Arte,
the Greek Film Center, Prooptiki,
Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie Berlin
and the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp.
Producer: Thanassis Karathanos
Screenwriter-director: Filippos Tsitos
Director of photography: Hanno Lentz
Production designer: Peter Weber
Music: Dr. Nelle Karajilic, Dejan Sparavalo
Costume designer: Nebojsa Lipanovic
Editors: Petar Markovic
, Nebojsa Stanojevic
Bruce: Harvey Friedman
Anke: Nadja Uhl
Cafe proprietor: Mario Mentrup
Anke's mother: Monika Hansen
Ino: Neil de Souza
Hartmut: Peter Lewan
Hakim: Mehdi Nebbou
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating