“A House Made of Splinters”
Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)
It’s patently unfair that anyone of a tender young age should have to endure the pain of life’s hardships. Growing up can be challenging enough in itself, but, when it’s compounded by such difficulties as parental abandonment, abuse, the death of loved ones and war, one can’t help but wonder how the children saddled with these ordeals are able to survive. Thankfully, there are individuals and organizations that are willing to step in and offer support. Such is the case with a special shelter in eastern Ukraine, located not far from the front lines of the Donbass conflict, designed to care for youngsters awaiting court and government agency decisions regarding their fates. It’s a place of both hope and sorrow but, most importantly, a wellspring of compassion to help see them through these trying times. Director Simon Lereng Wilmont’s Oscar-nominated documentary takes a candid, probing look at life in the facility, told through the eyes of residents and staff. This heart-tugging chronicle captures the joy of success stories and the sadness of those whose suffering never seems to end, as well as the courage of others who manage to soldier on in the face of their circumstances. It also depicts the keen sense of realism that the shelter’s residents develop at incredibly young ages, an awareness of the world that they shouldn’t have to face so early on in life. Their understanding of these circumstances ultimately either helps them cope with their conditions or sends them down paths from which recovery is nearly impossible, despite whatever guidance they receive from their caregivers. No matter which direction their lives may take, however, viewers can’t help but be moved by their stories, an expertly developed and eloquently nuanced aspect of the film that comes through loud and clear. Ideally, the film would have been stronger with a little more background about the facility itself – how it was established, how it’s funded, what drew the staff members to it – but, considering the essential nature of its mission, some might contend that such information is incidental by comparison. In addition, for those wondering about the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, it should be noted that this production was filmed before the start of the onslaught, but an update on the residents’ status is provided before the closing credits. It’s indeed tragic that this current conflict has only added to the already-existing list of trials and tribulations affecting these children, but, as the film observes, of all the virtues and vices present in our existence, hope is the last one to die, a sentiment that aptly reflects what this remarkable refuge is all about, no matter how difficult things may get.