A few years ago, I wrote and published a young adult novel, Breaking Point, about homophobic bullying in schools. The first section of the book deals with an incident in which the bully videos his victim as he is stripped and thrown into the showers in the changing rooms, and how that video makes its way around the school. In Breaking Point, the incident is just one of many problems facing the victim, but in the film Homevideo (Germany, 2011), this kind of event is fully explored and is extended to make a ninety minute film.
The set-up in Homevideo is slightly different. Here, Jakob (played by Deutschland 83‘s Jonas Nay) records himself masturbating, but then his mother inadvertently lends out the video camera (complete with the memory card) and the footage ends up in the wrong hands. Before long, the footage is circulated online, and Jakob is both ridiculed and ostracised. Interestingly, in the same year, another film, The Suicide Room, a Polish film, also dealt with cyber bullying, this time with video footage of a dare in which two male teens kiss at a party being circulated. While both films deal well with their subject matter, Homevideo tells its story in a much more traditional manner and, while I like The Suicide Room, it is probably the better film because of it.
Unlike my own book and The Suicide Room, Homevideo is not about gay teenagers or homophobic bullying, although there is a short, undeveloped scene in which it is intimated that one of the two boys behind the video going online might be turned on by it. However, Jakob is a shy, somewhat socially awkward teenager as is the case in the other two stories as well. One wonders how the story might have been different if this was not the case – what if the boy at the centre of the story was one of the most popular kids in school? Would the effects be the same? And, if not, what would they be? Jakob’s story is also complicated by the break-up of his parents’ marriage at the same time, with his mother moving out to live with her female lover.
Jonas Nay, looking even more young and innocent than in the recent hit series Deutschland 83, puts in a fine performance as Jakob, and ultimately holds the film together, appearing in most scenes. He has the difficult job of making a withdrawn, sometimes exasperating, and certainly complex, character likeable. However, the script here also deserves a special mention, dealing with its subject without lecturing its audience about the evils of the internet and making its characters fully-rounded and believable. What perhaps is most important here is that the film (along with The Suicide Room) highlights the kind of bullying that can’t be easily stopped or even easily identified. It is also bullying by humiliation, and therefore rarely talked about by victims until things reach breaking point.
The sad thing about the film is its lack of availability to a non-German speaking audience. The only DVD available is in German (as you would expect), but without foreign language subtitles – although the tech-savvy can buy the DVD and pair it up with the non-professional English subtitles that are lurking around in the corners of the internet and, in this case, are more than competent. But its lack of availability is a shame, for this is a fine film and, as with The Suicide Room, deserves to be widely seen. Maybe with Jonas Nay now becoming known outside Germany, an English release of Homevideo may follow.