Berlinale 2014: Athanasios Karanikolas’ ‘At Home’ Review

For those familiar with Athanasios Karanikolas’ film making, ‘At Home’ is a natural continuation of ‘Ellie Makra – 42277 Wuppertal’ and ‘Echolot’. The director’s cinema is based on details, the thin lines of the strongest human emotions and a penetrating gaze that balances between documentary and fiction – here in its most complete and moving form yet.

‘At Home’ tells the story of Nadja, a Georgian immigrant who lives with a family – a husband and wife and their young daughter – in a house with a view to the sea. Their relationship is ideal, since Nadja isn’t just another housekeeper, but also a friend for the lonesome wife and a mother for little Iris. For twelve years she has kept the household running.

Everything changes when Nadja finds out she is suffering from an incurable illness, which will make her undesirable in the home she once lived. The cruel face of a society that likes to think of her as equal will become transparent when we witness the heroine’s abandonment and she is left without a family or home.

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Karanikolas manages to base the whole film on this woman’s life, on her everyday routine and extreme solitude – which you sense is more profound and stems from somewhere deeper inside – on the fact she is an immigrant, on the mistakes which lead her to a dead end when she is forced to leave the house she considers her home, and on her questions which remain unanswered.

His gaze is geometrical, and traps his heroine and her universe in a house which despite its sea view, seems confined in the unreasonable concrete of human weakness and imprisoned in a city that seems to live an eternal summertime of indifference towards the living.

In quiet tones, even when a dramatic crescendo is called for – just as the character of the heroine effortlessly dictates, Karanikolas constructs a melodrama, which boils with passions, desires, cosmic injustices and the tragic qualities of a society, which has hit a wall, morally. But he manages this without having to resort to easy sentimentality and dilemmas for the viewer, as if he were directing a suite of chamber music, which under the impression of harmony conceals all the complexity of a life that comes undone when its main reason for existence is taken away.

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At the center of Karanikolas’ stylized yet simple storytelling we find the exquisite Maria Kallimani, who transforms Nadja into an archetypal, almost classic heroine. With every slight movement of her body, with each puzzled gaze, in the way she carries herself, her integrity at the very moment of her greatest anguish and sadness, when feeling capable of dealing with anything and when she loses the ground beneath her feet, Nadja is the ‘all woman’ (as immigrant, as mother and as lover) heroine of a film which is deeply moving, and which consciously chooses to keep the size of its tragedy within the dimensions of an everyday story, as it would unfold in anyone’s home.

Read more about ‘At Home’ and watch the trailer here.