Joshua Reviews Nanouk Leopold’s It’s All So Quiet [PIFF 2014 Review]

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At first glance, writer/director Nanouk Leopold’s newest film, It’s All So Quiet, sounds like your run-of-the-mill  piece of intimate, and glacially paced, bit of world cinema. Telling the story of a man dealing with not only having to take care of his dying father, but his own sexuality in the middle of his life, the film seems ripped right out of any foreign language sidebar found during any of a given year’s film festival season. However, if half of the films that grace any given film festival were as intimate and emotionally resonant as this stunning piece of work, the film world would be a far more interesting place.

Based on a novel from author Gerbrand Bakker, the picture introduces us to a man named Helmer, a single farmer in the middle of his life who lives with and takes care of his dying father in the Dutch countryside. Himself living a life of relative isolation, he finds company in an attractive young farmhand who he takes on, as well as a milkman, Johan, who has a clear affinity for our lead character. A deeply profound look at sexual repression, loss and loneliness, this assured feature film is both lyrical in its structure and pacing, and yet completely and utterly rapturous come the final scene.

Aesthetically, the film is very much in step with modern Danish cinema. Frigid in its photography, the film gets some gorgeous work out of cinematographer Frank van den Eeden, who gives the film a death-ridden blue tint which seems to bleed on throughout the full film, and Leopold’s camera is unflinching and helps set the pace at somewhere just below a low simmer.  Never taking any attention away from the top tier performances at the core of the picture, Leopold instead simply plants his camera within this universe, and while it’s not a static film in any way, Leopold’s camera work is both evocative and yet brazenly intimate. And his screenplay is even quieter. One would be shocked to find out that this film’s script hit the double digits in page count, yet despite how quiet the film truly is, Leopold’s script is rife with emotional resonance and thematic relevance. Again, glacially structured, only giving us glimpses of the inner workings of our lead’s mind at any given time, the film is a slow burn of a drama and yet the picture is impossible to turn away from. The blend of stunning photography and beautiful camera work opposite a screenplay so dense with human emotional and thematic resonance proves this to be a truly superb chamber drama.

However, the performances, or rather the lead performance here, is what one will be talking about walking out of the theater. And sadly, it is one of the actor’s final pieces. The late Jeroen Willems stars here as Helmer, and is an absolute revelation.  Willems gives a dynamite performance here, a performance that is understated by every meaning of that word, and yet raw and emotionally haunting. Playing out all of the themes within the text seemingly just with his face and overall physicality, Willem loses himself in what is a true mood piece, mining these themes of isolation and repression for absolute acting gold. A patient film with an even more stayed lead performance, there isn’t much plot for our lead to dig through on his journey, but we get is a performance, and a film for that matter, so raw with pure emotion that its faux-neo-realist aesthetic only goes along to aid both the power of the performance, and the overall emotional depth of the film. Toss in Henri Garcin as Helmer’s father, Wim Opbrouk as the milkman and youngster Martjin Lakemeier as the farmhand who really turns this man’s life upside down, and you have a cast that fully give themselves over to this picture and these characters, a film so melodically paced that it may seem projected on the back of a snail, but packs as powerful an emotional wallop as you’ll see so far this year.

Overall, while the film will, admittedly, not be the cup of tea for most moviegoers, those either willing to give themselves over to this glacier of a drama or those accustomed to seeing this type of intimate character study will find this to be deeply rewarding. With gorgeous direction, awe-inspiring cinematography and a tour de force lead performance, It’s All So Quiet may be a perfect title for this slowly burning meditation on love, loss and isolation.

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