Markus lives the perfect life: a lucrative job in construction management, an adoring and faithful wife, and a beautiful and smart daughter about to tend a prominent English school. Yet, Marcus finds solace in a double life by living his true self as a bi-sexual man with a secret, younger male lover from one of his construction projects, leaving his wife frustrated and destructive in their foundering marriage. When Markus’s construction colleague Christopher finds himself being squeezed by the taxing agency, Marcus offers to help out a little. Christopher asks his 12-year-old son Johannes to be nice to and to spend time with Markus’s 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth in a show of good faith towards Markus’s good will. With Johannes around most of the time, Markus tries to keep grounded his uncontrollable desires for Johannes, but invites Johannes to Markus’s family’s summer house. Through the summer, Markus and Johannes form a relationship, but not everything is as it’s seems when hidden agendas and surprising outcomes could potentially destroy everyone involved.
An intense psychosexual, “The Summer House” zips straight out of Berlin from writer-director Curtis Burz who touches upon more taboo subject material than one might be able to withstand without feeling guilty, dirty, or rotten. Burz’s pen weaves through one man’s constant struggle between maintaining a barely afloat marriage to a wife he loves because of their daughter and his secretive bi-sexual life in an affair involving a much younger man. Burz also remarks on Markus’s wife Christine and her battle with near tragic depression; she’s complicit in Markus’s affair by allowing him, with only little resistance, to continue, yet Christine wants Markus to rediscover his love for her on his own. The pen continues to weave through the stories of the children, Johannes and Elisabeth. The very nature of a child feels exploited here in more ways than one, but the film’s end game takes an usual twist, one I can’t spill here without spoiling the finale fun. Burz continues to drop dark material presented and staged in a glowing-like and vividly colorful mise-en-scene throughout that would suggest happiness or perfection for all involved; however, the nagging, gloomy undertone remains behind the scenes and unseen and that’s the kind of sadistically gratifying contribution added by director Curtis Burz.
“The Summer House” is a socially controversial film without being overly in your face with it. Nothing is explicit with the subtleties being just enough to make your stomach feel uneasy and to make your jaw clench with anticipation. The scenes with Markus (the then 40-year-old Sten Jacobs) and Johannes (a certainly under 18-year-old Jasper Fuld) kept building the tension between them and Jacobs portrayed a creepy, over-anxious and over-persistent pedophile uncomfortably well whereas Fuld plays his part just as convincingly as a seemingly tolerable young boy who may or may not be curious about Markus’s intentions toward him. The vexation Christine discharges is all due in part, greatly toward, of the leading lady Anna Altmann’s performance. Altmann captures a wife in marriage limbo, looking to rekindle a broken family stuck in stalemate due to her husband’s mid-life sexual crisis while maintaining her daughter’s precociousness. Nina Splettstößer feeds off Atlmann’s motherly performance by portraying Elisabeth as quiet and intelligent, yet passive and conniving who sees her mother as someone who hates her because of how stringent her mother is toward her.
The story’s complex web becomes stickier and the spider draws even closer when Markus’s secret sleepovers become exposed, creating a twist ending not even M. Night Shyamalan could conjure up. However, the story behind Markus’s colleague Christopher and his wife Anne feels ignored and neglected. Aside from Christopher incidentally being the catalyst between Markus and Johannes, Christopher and Anne’s scenes seem unnecessary. One scene has the both adult couples seemingly in the early wine and dine stages of a swinger party, but once most of the kissing between Anne, Christopher and Christine is out of the way, the scene falls short with a quick cut to just Markus finishing off with his wife Christine with all their clothes still on. Christopher and Anne come and go in barely a handful of other scenes that don’t tie into much of the story and would have either been better if either explored further into their adventurous lifestyle to get a better understanding of Johannes or leave them out all together.
Overall, “The Summer House” is deserving of it’s numerous film festival awards and a solid release for not only Artsploitation Films, but also as a film that has been Berlin born even if the film released nearly 3 years ago. Certainly very relevant to today’s modern multi-societal problems including the dissolving of families, behavioral issues with not only pedophilia, but with depression, and to round out the pleasantries with scrofulous affairs. The Artsploitation Films, in a metaphorical broken and cracked pane glass over a solemn Markus family DVD cover, has a widescreen 1.85:1 ratio release with a German and English 2.0 audio track is accompanied with bonus features that include deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a trailer; all content clocks in at around 195 minutes total – not bad all around for an independent feature.