An excerpt from the booklet essay by Carmen Gray

I Was at Home, but… is a film of ellipses and shifting states; of existence as transience and always-imminent loss, in which life on Earth is brief and any domestic comfort is already on the way to becoming but a memory. In this, its title - which riffs on the 1932 Ozu classic of changing family dynamics I Was Born, But… (Otona no miru ehon - Umarete wa mita keredo) - could not be more apt. German director Angela Schanelec’s eighth full-length feature is about a household that’s been thrown into disarray by the spectres of death and departure. Grief unfolds its mysteries as a making-strange, and a collapse of trust in the world as a safe place, as nature’s merciless rebellions against the illusion of human control destabilise the everyday sense of being at home on the planet of a family’s remaining members. Exasperated desperation to be understood, amid rough tides of emotional repression and eruption, inform their conversational exchanges. Doubt over the capacity of language (cinematic included) to convey the irreducible singularity of human experience in a way that’s meaningful to others casts palpable unease through every frame.

‘There’s no word for that state of becoming and being at the same time,’ says middle-aged Berliner Astrid (Maren Eggert, a regular Schanelec collaborator). Her theatre director husband passed away two years ago from a terminal illness, we learn, and the crisis of loss has been compounded by the more recent vanishing (and reappearance) of her thirteen-year-old son Phillip (Jakob Lassalle). She’s close to psychically unravelling under the strain, acutely aware that time is circling her loved ones and herself; that we are all simultaneously dying while living.

As Astrid muses on being and becoming, the endlessly quoted opening lines of the soliloquy on the merits of living or dying (“To be, or not to be”) in Shakespeare’s most-performed play Hamlet, spring to mind, as a reflection on existence and its inseparable inverse similarly fraught with debilitating confusion. It's only fitting that Phillip is rehearsing the title role for a school performance. Pupils read from Schanelec’s own published German-language translation of the play, co-authored with her late partner, the theatre director Jürgen Gosch (the autobiographical echo adds, of course, an extra layer of emotional resonance.)

Phillip and his classmates rehearse Hamlet’s play-within-a-play, the device by which the prince intends to gauge the culpability of his uncle Claudius, the newly crowned king, for the murder of his father by witnessing his reaction. The questions swirling around Hamlet of to what extent we can know others’ states of mind through observing behaviour and body language (and how exactly we are affected, addressed or thrown off kilter, by love’s pull toward those in the afterlife) resonate through all of I Was at Home, but… as Schanelec’s characters seek to pinpoint facts and make judgments in a sea of unreliability, fragmented episodes, and obscure motivations, as all the while death looms large.


Carmen Gray's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Germany, 2019
I Was at Home, But: 105 mins
Special features: 61 mins
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD master audio / 2.0 Stereo LPCM (48k/24-bit)
Original aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Language: German
Subtitles: English

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps Region ABC (Region Free)

Blu-Ray: £19.99
Release Date: 29 March 2021


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