Filip Jacobson’s delicately handled observational documentary about a charitable foundation for homeless men in Poland opens on a hazy morning sky, a tranquil lake and birdsong. Inside a nearby building, two sisters, Grazyna and Wioletta, talk about buying a whole pig and worry that it might not be enough. The two scenes encapsulate the dichotomy lying at the heart of Home (Dom): the Panakeja Foundation’s identity as a restful haven but a painstaking concern, laden with financial strains and interpersonal tensions.
This April, Jacobson’s 25-minute film battled it out against fifteen other global shorts at the inaugural Cheap Cuts Fest, taking home the Best International Documentary prize. The new London festival is dedicated to short documentaries, encouraging and increasing awareness of new filmmakers with two days of screenings, workshops and Q&As.
Jacobson, a recipient of Italy’s EsoDoc scholarship and graduate of Lodz University Gdynia Film School in Poland, has a promising career ahead. Walk, Jacobson’s first observational documentary explored the differing ways a sister and her blind brother perceive the world. It received the Students’ Jury Award at the 2012 Krakow Film Festival. Other early projects, including film workshops for children and young people in Turkey, Romania and Poland, demonstrate the commitment to social issues we see reflected in Home.
Jacobson’s observational style – Home’s absence of both narration and context setting title sequences – ensures the day-to-day pressures of running a charitable foundation must be inferred from brief clips of the sisters leafing through paperwork. The sisters debate impending laundry bills and medical instructions but Home is primarily concerned with human relationships and communication.
Days at the Foundation begin with rounds. The sisters’ affection for their residents, a large portion of whom are bedridden or struggling with ill-health, is palpable. Jacobson focusses on comforting physical reassurance: a hand stroking the face, a pat on the shoulder. Medical problems, from high blood pressure to incontinence, require frankness but rules are enforced with warmth, good humour and a little teasing. The majority of residents concede cheerfully but where they fail, the sisters resort to an unconventional system of good-natured bribes, withholding or rewarding residents with cigarettes.
Beneath the surface, Jacobson teases out the meaning of ‘home’ with considerable subtly, both for the Foundation’s clients and the sisters who live alongside them. Tensions inevitably arise. Despite running for less than half-an-hour, Home introduces the residents as complicated individuals whose foibles, from sneaking out for alcohol to collecting and hoarding rubbish, ripple the Foundation’s jovial atmosphere with an undercurrent of daily tedium.
The day ‘has its rhythm’, but encouraging residents to move in time requires a significant degree of manipulation and coaxing. The reality of other facilities, rife with younger residents and bullying, looms above those residents less compliant with the Foundation’s rules. For the residents, their ‘home’ unites medical care and comfort with curtailed freedoms. A battle of wills plays out in trivial domestic quarrels: there’s a rebellious opening of windows and a refusal to wear pyjamas. Pushing against the boundaries is intentionally challenging but never aggressive, like children testing parental limits.
Jacobson approaches this complex, interpersonal order with sensitivity and respect. In their fleeting personal time, the sisters do their hair or have a manicure, but thoughts relentlessly turn to the Foundation. Caring isn’t an easy profession. The sisters face a daily onslaught of soiled sheets, withdrawing alcoholics, expensive bills and diminishing funds. Speaking openly, Grazyna explains her decision to open the all-consuming Foundation. In doing so she reveals her own, grief stricken act of rebellion. Home is charged with the complexities of people: the need for comfort, purpose, rules and freedoms. In observing the Panakeja Foundation, Jacobson provides a microcosm of the human condition.