A House Made of Splinters is, on the surface, about the children who temporarily stay at a group home in Lysychasnk, Ukraine. But it’s also about the adults who are kind of in these children’s lives. The documentary shows us the adults running the home, making sure the children either end up with their more competent adults in their families. It also makes us feel the absence of parents who don’t bother showing up. One of these children, Eva, listens to her mother gush about a man who’s too young for the latter, and the conversation takes a sad turn.
The documentary, in the beginning, makes the connection between these broken families and the Russo-Ukrainian War, ongoing since 2014. Being a border town, the war has caused a social breakdown. It makes at least one in every ten parents unable to raise their children in a way that the government must intervene. Despite that contextualization though, these stories feel personal and universal. It closes up on the faces of these children, the camera able to see how guarded these children are becoming. One of those children, Kolya, gets a visit from his mother, but these visits don’t mean anything permanent.
How can viewers watch documentaries about subject matter like this, one might ask? Documentary viewers are often gluttons for punishment. But A House Made of Splinters manages to make the right kind of bittersweet. The documentary makes some good decisions abut choosing four children as its main subjects, without going to any spoilers. It earns those organic subject arcs. Meanwhile, it ensures that we know that these children have a long life ahead of them that they can fix or otherwise. There’s also a textural warmth in the visuals and pacing here that make it one of this year’s best.
A House Made of Splinters makes it Hot Docs premiere on April 29, 2022.
- Release Date: 4/29/2022