Intimate portrait of prison camp survivor Lous Hoogendijk-De Jong, who hasn’t left her home in years


Source: IDFA


Dir: Oeke Hoogendijk. Netherlands. 2021. 71mins

By nature, this is a small-scale production: Housewitz puts the viewer in the home of Lous Hoogendijk-De Jong, or, to be more specific, the bedroom-cum-living-room and kitchen space which comprises her entire world. Lous, a robust and crusty-tempered Dutch nononogenerian, is the director’s mother and a severe agoraphobic who hasn’t left this sealed space for decades. Initially, Lous allows a camera crew in, and reluctantly agrees to talk about her past: but this only brings the horrors of her youth in a Nazi prison camp roaring back to life, and she directs her daughter to install a webcam instead.

The Holocaust didn’t finish in 1945 for those who survived

Lous isn’t just agoraphobic: she has an aversion to mankind, which she euphemistically refers to as social phobia, but in reality, she has had it with the human race. Sweary and funny, belligerent and yet oddly optimistic at times; when a Christmas tree arrives, she’ll shout: ’I’m enjoying it right now!” Later, in the sunshine of her back garden, clad in shades and a funky straw hat, she’ll express her love for electronic dance music.. But as the title indicates, Lous is a prisoner of her past – in which her beloved father and brother were murdered by the Nazis in death camps and she herself was deported to Westerbork in the Netherlands. She is haunted by dreams in which she can never find her way hom. And now she never leaves it.

Picked up by Tel Aviv-based Go2films on its IDFA premiere, where it competes in the new Envisions strand, Housewitz is a case of content over style. It’s a one-woman show, mostly shot on a webcam, and the story isn’t pretty. It’s important though: perhaps, as Lous accuses, the process is invasive, but she knows it matters that society bears witness with her right to the bitter end. The Holocaust didn’t finish in 1945 for those who survived.

Lous’s adult children appear incidentally, and there’s a sense that their testimony might have helped put her life in sharper context. Viewers will have to imagine what it was like to grow up with her, and know it can’t have been easy. On prompting, she recalls the terror of Oeke’s birth, when the sickly child was taken to hospital for six weeks — it was not known whether she would survive her illness. Lous expressed breastmilk for the child’s father to take into hospital, but she never visited her daughter: she simply couldn’t leave the house.

Now Lous travels through her TV set – she has quite the audiovisual set-up. She takes train journeys on the television, with the rattling of the tracks a reminder of the road to the camps. She visits the world this way (“South Africa was dead boring,” she says.) It’s enough for her. She bottles everything up, crams down her emotions, seals it all with a tight lid, but Auschwitz and her dead father and brother are always with her, Westerbork is as much a presence in her rooms as the cat, her only companion. 

After the war, she and her mother never spoke again about what happened – not a word. As the film edges towards holocaust memorial day, we see that all her bravado is paper thin, she is hoarding a psychological response to events which invade her fragile sense of security. Attentive viewers will pick up clues that Lous is much older than she looks, and she passed away last year. One consoling thought is that the pandemic would not have altered her life: her world was locked down in 1942 and the psychological bars never opened again.

Production company: Discours Film, Eo Docs

International sales: Go2Films

Producers: Frank van den Engel, Oeke Hoogendijk

Cinematography: Sander Snoep

Editing: Katharina Wartena