Director: Ronny Trocker
Cast: Sabine Timoteo, Mark Waschke, Jule Hermann, Wanja Valentin Kube, Hannes Perkmann and Daniel Séjourné
Released: Sundance Film Festival 2021
Intimate tracking shots ensure that Human Factors is a continuous fully immersive experience in this riveting tale as a family’s weekend retreat unearths hidden tensions following a break-in. Such a home invasion would be a significantly traumatic ordeal within anyone’s life. Human Factors excels in interweaving such disruption and the ensuing devastation within a perfect holiday narrative from all perspectives. The non-linear timescale similarly provides that unexpected, disorienting, unsettling sensation for those watching at home within such voyeuristic settings. It is a masterclass in effective storytelling within a family drama from director Ronny Trocker.
Human Factors explores the importance of language and communication as the family have a Franco-German background. On the surface, Jan and Nina are the perfect couple with 2.4 children representing that modern-day representation of the ideal. The family mainly speak in German and have a holiday home in Belgium, but during stressful situations, which the home invasion aggravates, Nina resorts to expressing her frustrations in French. Communication lies at the heart of Jan and Nina’s world as they own an advertising agency, Human Factors underlines the focus placed on communication with their clients. However, it is the adoption of a politically charged client, contrary to Nina’s desires, resulting in repressed emotions coming to the fore. The film remains immersed within the unleashing of these fraught emotions within a perfectly constructed microcosm. Appearances of perfection are often carefully constructed veneers to survive day-to-day life, and Human Factors perfectly dissects these façades, enabling the destructive effect of such repressed emotions to permeate throughout the film.
At times, the unfurling of emotions may be uncomfortable to absorb, but it may also be representative of a healthier solution overall within familial relationships. The irony within Human Factors is that despite such focus on communication, there is that erosion of empathy and communication within the family’s structure. Human Factors’ unique approach presents the impact of the home invasion and the ensuing silence, lack of communication, and non-verbal interaction from each family member’s perspective. The film remains immersive in examining the family’s different coping mechanisms and highlighting that necessity to respect another’s feelings. The camera work helps convey the doubts, insecurities and concerns with shaky hand-held shots, close-ups and wide-angle panning emphasising the beauty of the surroundings.
Human Factors is an ensemble piece with each family member provided with the opportunity to present their own perspective. It is a riveting watch that fluctuates between being a family drama, a psychological thriller, and examining the role of communication. Trocker effectively ramps up the tension within a claustrophobic environment which remains fascinating with the non-linear timeline, which may even make its audience question which perspective may be the reality.
Human Factors impresses with its fully drawn characters and the underlying sense of suspense that remains. It isn’t easy to highlight one performance within such a film of Human Factors’ quality with its gripping lesson in communication. The dynamics between Sabine Timoteo as Nina and Mark Waschke as Jan are simply mesmerising to watch. It would be remiss not to emphasise their captivating interaction as simple acts of non-communication escalate within their relationship to devastating effect. Timoteo delivers such a compelling performance throughout Human Factors oscillating effortlessly between moments of frustration and rage to empathy in such a relatable manner. Her character certainly carries the film and provides that grounding force for the family to her own detriment, under Trocker’s subtle direction. The camera lingers on Timoteo’s face during heightened moments, ensuring that each emotion experienced by Nina will resonate in this emotive tale.
Human Factors is a well-made film as a character study of communication and human emotions whilst embedded within a familial structure. Its unflinching portrayal provides that opportunity for reflection concerning the importance of communication, particularly during times of trauma. Human Factors stresses that rather than suppressing emotions to protect others, the more humane and non-devastating action may simply be to be honest, which is an important lesson in communication for all.
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