Director: Curtis Burz
Cast: Sten Jacobs, Jaspar Fuld, Anna Altman
Running Time: 100 minutes
Whenever a film tackles a subject that makes people uncomfortable, it is sometimes hard to separate the emotions brought on by the taboo nature of the subject matter from the quality of the film. However, writer/direct Curtis Burz does a good job of humanizing a sensitive subject (a subject that many people find repulsive and reprehensible).
THE SUMMER HOUSE does not shy away from exploring the impulses and reality behind pedophilia. The film is told from the dual perspective of Markus (Sten Jacobs) and his daughter, Elisabeth (Nina Splettstößera). Markus Larsen is a successful business man who lives a picture perfect life with his family, wife Christine and daughter, Elisabeth. However, despite the normality on the surface, underneath is a portrait of a family falling apart.
Markus leads a dual life. He has a younger male lover and harbors an intense desire for the twelve-year-old son of his business partner, Christopher. Christopher’s son, Johannes (Jaspar Fuld), shares a class with Markus’s daughter, Elisabeth, and through this connection, Markus winds his way into Johannes’s life.
Johannes is not naïve to Markus’s desires. He treats them at times with curiosity and other times with revulsion. When Markus asks Johannes if he’s ever kissed someone, Johannes sneers, “Why do you want to know that?” Johannes is at an age where he understands sexuality (even if his understanding is that of a young boy), and he has an appreciation of his effect on Markus. Despite his youth, he knows that he holds an amount of power over Markus, and he uses that power to manipulate the situation for his own benefit. It is a bit unsettling that the film takes this perspective on Johannes’s involvement with Markus. Markus is the adult, but often times, Johannes is the more mature of the two.
Throughout the film, it’s not clear how much Christine knows about her husband’s double life, but it is obvious she knows something is wrong in her family and that she believes she is the cause of it. Markus’s impulses are selfish, and he frequently puts his own happiness above that of his family’s. His wife is falling apart, yet Markus does not seem to care. Anna Altmann’s portrayal is riveting. Christine’s pain is palpable and her despair and loneliness bleeds through her performance.
THE SUMMER HOUSE is not a perfect movie. The point of a view is a bit off and instead of limiting itself to Markus’s and Elisabeth’s perspective, the audience is sometimes privy to Christine’s perspective. However, for the majority of the film Christine’s story is only told through Elisabeth’s eyes. The shift in POV is jarring. The acting is flawless, but the story at times takes on too much. Markus’s behavior is enough reason for the breakdown of the Larsen family, but additional troubles are heaped on leading the film to a melodramatic climax. Despite the problems, THE SUMMER HOUSE has moments that are uncomfortable, touching, and effectively upsetting.
Though there will be many who will not be able to see past their own disgust of the film’s subject matter, those who can look past the taboo nature of the film will be able to appreciate it for an exploration of sexuality beyond the bounds of what the majority of us consider “normal” and the destruction it rends on the lives of all who are involved.
THE SUMMER HOUSE is released on US DVD August 25.