Sunday, December 20, 2009
92. Polish director and scriptwriter Urszula Antoniak's debut film "Nothing Personal" (2009): Amazing tale on solitude beautifully told
Solitude is often craved for by individuals who are thinkers (and sometimes by misanthropes, due to their personal past experiences). It is a state that monks and people spiritually inclined love to enjoy at some stage in their lives. It is an accepted life stage in Hindu religious practice and certain Buddhist and Jain traditions. Gertrude Stein wrote on solitude "When they are alone they want to be with others, and when they are with others they want to be alone. After all human beings are like that." Nothing Personal is a very interesting film that reflects Ms Stein's thoughts. It begins with a woman who for unknown reasons gives away all her worldly possessions and leaves on a journey to nowhere. In a secluded spot in Ireland, another man--a widower--lives alone valuing his solitary life. Yet, he realizes that he could do with some hired help to tend his garden. The two individuals meet but do their lives change? The Irish-Dutch film directed by a Polish director explores the theme with remarkable results.
Polish director and scriptwriter Urszula Antoniak, currently living in Holland, is someone to watch out for in the future landscape of world cinema if Nothing Personal is an indicator of her capabilities. I have a soft corner for any talented debut filmmaker who relies on his/her own story and script. Ms Antoniak is one such director revealing her potential of greater works to come.
Nothing Personal, a very recent Irish-Dutch co-production, making its Indian premiere at the 14th International Film Festival of Kerala, had its audience clapping away at some delightfully composed shots by cinematographer Daniel Bouquet and director Antoniak, conjured for the viewer. It is without doubt a nugget of a film. Ms Antoniak deservedly won the best first feature of a director award at Locarno Film Festival. The film has won an incredible tally of 10 awards already, 6 of which came at the Locarno film Festival itself in Italy.
Lotte Verbeek, a Dutch actress with a magnetic screen presence, plays a young attractive Dutch woman who discards all her material possessions in Holland one fine day and watches strangers pick up the material from the window of her apartment. She is shown wearing a wedding ring, which she is shown removing. Evidently, she was once married but there is no mention of her past or of her marriage as the film unspools. Ms Verbeek won the Silver Leopard best actress award at Locarno Film Festival portraying the main role of a young woman with no money, backpacking from Holland to an unknown beautiful desolate spot in Ireland with no apparent purpose with all the qualities of a misanthrope. During the film, Ms Verbeeck’s demeanor gradually changes from the unfriendly to the affable and then back to her old self. The changes in her character that are subtle are truly a treat to watch. Like Ms Antoniak, we can be sure that Ms Verbeek, too, will be talked about in the future.
Director and scriptwriter Antoniak presents an enigmatic character with minimal spoken conversations. But when words are spoken the carefully chosen words provide a lot of meaning. The woman is distrustful of men, who possibly mean her no harm, and rude to women who want to get know her or even help her. The woman feeds herself by checking out trash bins for left-over food. On reaching a scenic spot in Ireland by apparent chance, she spots a lonely house of rich owner. When the owner, a well-to-do genial old widower, returns to the house, he offers her food. She is initially rude to him as well. The two come to an arrangement where she would work for food, but refuses to reveal her name or speak a word of who she is. Throughout the film she is addressed as “You’ by the house-owner Martin after she says he can call her ‘You ‘ The deal is food for work, but no discussion on personal matters. Hence, the title of the film--Nothing Personal.
The film is essentially about the relationship that is built over the days between the two. Both are individuals who, for their own reasons, like to be alone. Both, it is gradually revealed, are well-educated and cultured Europeans. The back-packer with no money is capable of making haute cuisine when she chooses and is well versed with good music and books. What follows is a gripping tale of appreciation of solitude, not because one hates people and their friendships, but because they value their own space and time without intrusions from others. Yet, even such people can value companionship when they find people of a similar vein.
This film will provide a great boost for Irish cinema. The film showcases yet another commendable performance from Irish actor of repute Stephen Rea, who had a major role in the award-winning film The Crying Game. It will also serve as a great advertisement for Irish tourism with its fascinating locales liile known to potential tourists.
Without revealing the end of the film, I would advise all viewers of this film to pay attention to the sound and visual details throughout the film. A perceptive viewer will truly enjoy the remarkable epilogue of the film, which tells an aspect of the story that the film does not reveal right up to that point of the tale.
P.S. I recommend an interesting interview by Boyd van Hoeij with the director Ms Antoniak published a fortnight ago available on http://cineuropa.org/ffocusinterview.aspx?lang=en&documentID=115800&treeID=2061