When it came to shooting his feature directorial debut Home Care, Czech director Slávek Horák, who made a name in his native country as a TV commercial helmer, didn’t want to rush it.
A graduate of the esteemed Prague film school FAMU whose alums include Oscar winning directors Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains), Jan Sverak (Kolya), Horák told Deadline’s Dominic Patten at the Thursday night screening of Home Care, “I didn’t feel ready to make a movie in my 20s or my 30s. I didn’t see anything I would want to put up on the screen. But as my 40th birthday approached, I decided to do it and learn something by doing it.” Home Care is the Czech Republic’s Oscar submission this year in the foreign film category.
“There have been some bad genre movies coming out of the Czech Republic and they’ve been starving for something personal,” said Horák about Home Care, a dramedy largely inspired by the director’s mother, who like the film’s main character Vlasta, has been a career home nurse. In the film, Vlasta relentlessly tends to a number of ailing senior citizens, however, after getting into a motorcycle accident, she suddenly faces death and longs to experience her remaining days with youthful vigor. The bulk of the film was largely biographic about Horák’s mother, except the part about her facing death. Horák shot the bulk of the film at the childhood home he grew up in: “That was our vineyard, that was my father’s (metal) workshop.”
When it came to getting the personal film off the ground, a number of Czech producers “were too busy to read it,” said Horák. “They just told me to self-produce it because it’s a small film.” Within two months, the director assembled the financing from the country’s Czech State Cinematopraghy Fund, Czech TV and Slovak Audiovisual Fund.
Style wise, Horák intentionally avoided being flashy on screen, which is the tendency of commercial TV directors. “There’s a lot of flying the camera around. I wanted to do the exact opposite and tried to be simple: No music and I used only available daylight. I was trying to go against what I was doing for the last 20 years. I felt such freedom here. (Going this route), I spent 90% of the time working with the actors instead of setting up the shots.”
Horák’s mother, aside from being a muse, also gave her two cents to her son regarding casting. She insisted upon 50-year old actress Alena Mihulová as Vlasta, which turned out to be a great suggestion: Mihulová went on to win the best actress award at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
Recounted Horák, “When I started writing, I had two pages and my mother kept bothering me and asking ‘Who’s gonna play me?’ She chose this actress who had a breakthrough role when she was 17, and then two other roles, however a majority of people in the Czech Republic don’t recognize her. I was initially resistant about casting Alena because that role she played when she was 17 was a home care nurse! It was in a beloved Czech film of the 1970s called Nurses. After auditioning a number of people, I came back to her.” Mom also composed the final wedding song which is the only piece of music heard in Home Care.
When it came to who should play his father, Lada in the film, Horák chose prolific Czech actor Bolek Polívka. Some audiences think that Lada’s funnier moments were improvised by Polívka, however, “all of the character’s jokes in the script are my father’s lines,” said Horák. There’s a new age therapy that Vlasta engages in, whereby she attends healing sessions involving the laying of hands. Horák owes those scenes to his ex-girlfriend, who was heavily involved in that sphere, and could literally twist a spoon with the heat of her hands (an ongoing joke that’s in the movie).
Since being released in July in the Czech Republic, and currently in Slovakia, Home Care has grossed close to $400K at the box office. In the next two weeks, Horák is travelling with the film to the U.K., France, Estonia and Egypt. In the above video, Horák expounds on his further inspirations in Home Care.