IT’S ALL SO QUIET (Boven is het stil) B-
Netherlands Germany (93 mi) 2013 d: Nanouk Leopold Website
From the maker of GUERNSEY (2005) and WOLFSBERGEN (2007), both films with a post-Antonioni feel, this film as well feels heavily stylized, oppressively so, delving into the bleak, interior lives of a few isolated characters. Nearly wordless, where the camera barely moves at all, every shot is carefully composed, featuring characters that barely speak to one another, where the spaces between them becomes an ever widening abyss, remaining separated by a vast interior void. Based on Gerbrand Bakker’s award winning novel The Twin, the story concerns the chilly relationship between a father and son living in a farmhouse raising cows and sheep, where the dutiful, middle-aged son Helmer (Jeroen Willems, who died at age 50 before the film could be released) is forced to run the farm on his own while also taking care of his aging father Vader (Henri Garcin), a gruff patriarch used to having things done his way, who hasn’t yet come to terms with his own physical deficiencies, as he can’t walk, but hates being dependent upon others, especially after Helmer moves him to a bedroom upstairs where he lays in bed alone, as if waiting to die. For Helmer’s part, the time spent with his father couldn’t be more harsh and oppressive, where he wordlessly goes about his business before leaving him alone, where the picture of his life is one spent doing little more than performing chores, as the film uses a documentary style of realism to show the meticulous nature of his dreary work while also revealing how socially alone and isolated he is on the farm. Incorporated into the daily routine is a visit from a dairy truck driver (Wim Opbrouk), who seems friendly enough, but Helmer tends to avoid any extended involvement.
This is a film of quiet subtlety and conviction, where less is more. While the book mentions a dead twin brother, where Helmer drops out of school to take his place fulfilling his family obligations on the farm, the film only hints at the ongoing resentment between father and son, as if he could never live up to his brother’s favored status in the eyes of his father, suggesting the harsh realities may have also included brutal beatings at the hand of his father. The film is largely seen through Helmer’s eyes, where his stoic nature is expressed through a powerful sense of alienation and detachment, where more is hinted at in each relationship, especially with the arrival of a young 18-year old farmhand, Henk (Martijn Lakemeier), seen as a sturdy lad, but he has no real aptitude for farmwork. Instead more is revealed through long pauses or short gazes, suggesting a homoerotic subtext, which may also explain the curt demeanor with the dairy farmer. When a sexual moment actually bubbles to the surface, it leads to disappointment and confusion, as the film is not ready to explore anything openly, as everything remains deeply repressed under the surface. Despite the presence of a new young partner, the banality of Helmer’s existence is overwhelming, where disappointment is very cleverly expressed in subdued measures, where two playful young boys, presumably from a neighboring home, visit the farm every now and then, but over time, only one comes to visit, as the other has lost all interest. This may as well be the story of Helmer’s life, as slowly, and certainly not by choice, the world around him seems to lose all sense of fascination, while his life is one of unspoken suffocation, as if time has literally passed him by.