Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nanouk Leopold's IT'S ALL SO QUIET: small, truthful Dutch "family film" opens at AFA

What a tiny treasure is this film about father and son farmers in an isolated area of The Netherlands. The father, very old and very infirm, is cared for -- grudgingly but decently -- by his middle-aged son. The son, however, is cared for by no one and apparently never has been. (The little we learn of his growing up indicates that his father was unduly harsh with him.) This is the heart of the sad, engrossing movie, IT'S ALL SO QUIET (Boven is het stil) that is full of small details -- of caring for the elderly as well as for farm animals -- that builds into a quietly moving study of loneliness and the inability of some of us to ever be able to reach out to anyone else.

As adapted (from the novel by Gerbrand Bakker) and directed by Nanouk Leopold (shown at left), the movie may be slow-moving but it is never uninteresting due to its expert detailing and how simple and subtle it consistently is. Ms Leopold keeps her camera ever watchful regarding the connection between father and son and between son and farm and the few other people who attempt to bridge what seems an incredible distance between them and this sad and unresponsive farmer.

As played by the late Jeroen Willems (above, left), whose untimely death occurred soon after the film was completed, the son, Helmer, is a figure of enormous empathy by us viewers, even though the character himself barely seems able to empathize with others or understand himself and his own needs.

The scenes of Helmer caring for his father (played by Henri Garcin, above, left) offers a look at the day-to-day drudgery -- cleaning up the shit, showering the old man, and the increasingly difficult chore of simply carrying him up the stairs -- that goes into the care of the very elderly.

We also slowly get a sense of the kind of upbringing Helmer must have had, in which showing affection of any kind was frowned upon. Now, this man is so socially insecure and untutored in anything approaching the social graces that he simply cannot respond in any normal way to other people's overtures. (The milk delivery man, above, clearly would like to pursue a relationship with Helmer, but can draw no response except embarrassment from our man.)

When more help is finally needed -- with the farming and the caregiving -- a young hired hand named Henk is brought aboard (Martijn Lakemeier, above, right), and it seems that a kind of break-through may come for Helmer. Things do happen and change does occur, but in the barest of increments. Possibilities lie unseen and unused, and the movie remains sad but ever-so-slightly hopeful.

The film begins and ends with some lovely shots of nature, and the natural world breaks into the narrative now and then. But what you'll remember most, I think, are the shots of the faces here, especially that of Willems, who gives a remarkable performance, all the deeper and more resonant due to his character's inability to connect.

Its All So Quiet -- from Jonathan Howell's Big World Pictures and running 91 minutes, in Dutch with English subtitles) -- begins a one-week run this Friday, January 9, at Anthology Film Archives in New York City. Click here for tickets and here for directions. Elsewhere? I'm not certain. But, being from Big World, there will most likely be a DVD on offer eventually and/or some digital streaming.

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