Marvin is in his late 30s, though he dresses much younger. He has tattoos all over his body, including his neck and knuckles. He looks like he can handle himself in a fight, but when he is attacked, he doesn’t so much as offer a punch. He feels he deserves everything he gets.
Marvin is back home for the first time in 17 years, after he was jailed for killing an old woman. Although many people refer to the killing, we never learn why he did it. This is not a film about what happened then – it is about redemption in the here and now.
Why has Marvin returned to a village where no-one wants him? Well, for a start he has nowhere else to go. And then he quickly learns that his mother has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and her death is imminent. There’s no-one else really there to see her through her final days apart from her carer Jayden.
It’s not laid on with a trowel, but we see the occasional glimpse that 17 years away has left Marvin out of touch. When a mobile phone rings, he doesn’t know how to answer it. He’s not seen The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, and he still listens to CDs (a note in passing: all these 3 things apply to me, so it doesn’t necessarily take 17 years of jail to lose touch with the modern world).
People may have come to the film because of Kathy Bates as Marvin’s mother, but the supporting cast has a breadth and depth missing from many films. There are several minor figures, none of whom has much screen time, but each of them is a fully defined character. There’s Delta, the green haired hairdresser who’s grandmother Marvin killed. Delta also has a part time job cleaning the local hospital, from which she nicks pills to sell to the local junkies.
Delta’s brother Russell spends most of his time getting pissed at home with his younger cousins – but at least he’s good with Delta’s baby. There’s Jayden of course, stuck in the middle of nowhere while his ex-wife and child are in Florida, and there’s the hippy preacher with the ridiculous belief that his congregation is ready to forgive.
And then there’s Wade, one of Delta’s customers, who spends most of his time out of it. Wade seems to have made a mess of his life, and spends his time from one high to another. But then he meets up with his old school friend Marvin, with whom he is able to share mutual moments of joy – from skateboarding together to dancing wildly to the Donots.
Who they? you may ask. The Donots are an alternative German band from the turn of the Century, who were ok. You get the feeling that director Franka Potente is going for a Garden State moment, when Natalie Portman put the Shins’ New Slang on her walkman and everyone went out and bought their album. I’m not totally convinced that Home will have the same effect on the Donots album.
Franka Potente was German cinema’s next New Thing before the emergence of Daniel Brühl. Like Brühl, her big breakthrough was in a couple of unexpectedly successful independent films. A couple of musical side projects followed – singing on a couple of singles by Indie acts of the moment Thomas D and Bananafishbones. And now, after selling her soul to Hollywood (Potente was in at least one Bourne film), this is her directorial debut.
Just as with Brühl’s Nebenan, before seeing Home, I was worried that it would turn out to be a bit rubbish. I feel so much goodwill for Potente that her producing a bad film would have been something of a betrayal. And in the opening scenes, I did have real worries that Home would falter because she didn’t seem to like her characters enough.
Now if this were a fluffy romcom with Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, she’d be more than justified to hate every single one of them. But in an age of adulatory Hollywood films about the rich and powerful (or about middle class dilettantes with First World Problems) this is a film about proper working class people. So if they all turned out to be bastards, the film could end up blaming them for not having as glamourous lives as their Hollywood counterparts.
As it happens, there was no reason to be worried. As the film progresses, you feel a developing empathy for all of the characters – well, maybe all except the boorish Russell. You may not like them too much, but you understand and hope that they would find a way out of their difficult lives. Home is a film full of empathy, and there’s little better than that.