Saturday, August 28, 2021

265. Italian film director Uberto Pasolini’s third feature film “Nowhere Special” (2020) in English, based on his original script: The rare intent and ability to care for the future needs of others when you can do so



“I wanted to make a film with this title for a long time. The title is from a dialogue at the end of Mel Brooks' film  Blazing Saddles; one character asks the other, "Where are you going to go?" and the other replies,"Nowhere special", and the first person replies, "I always wanted to go there." The idea behind this choice is that there is no perfection, that you just have to live, find a place where it is good to live, simply.”

---Director Uberto Pasolini, speaking  on how he chose the title of this film for his own fictional script, written after he read a newspaper story on a similar adoption, with the adoption agency refusing to divulge details of that case to him, due to confidentiality clauses (a rough translation of his interview given to Malik Berkati at the Zurich film festival, quoted in J:Ma. Lifestyle and Citizenship) 

Film director Uberto Pasolini makes small budget films with great care and thought that demand respect of mature filmgoers worldwide. His last two films Still Life (2013) and his latest work Nowhere Special (2020) focus on realistic characters who belong to the middle class but are sensitive to the world around them, lending a helping hand to people who require help in a low-key and admirable manner. Both his works stand out among so many others because he writes original stories/screenplays alone—a very creditable distinction separating him from the bulk of other filmmakers, relying on someone else’s tale to direct.

Nowhere Special is a tale of a single father, John, who has brought up his 3 year-old-son, Michael, with earnings from his work as an independent window cleaner in Northern Ireland. John dotes on his single offspring and takes care of him as a mother would. As the film progresses, we learn that John is in advanced stages of a life-threatening illness and Michael can’t be in his care for long. He approaches an adoption agency and they arrange for John and Michael to meet prospective foster parents for Michael in order for John to decide on Michael’s future family.

The single father John (James Norton)
goes shopping with his son
Michael (Daniel Lamont) 

Pasolini’s amazing ability is in presenting the relationship of father and son in the absence of a mother. John provides all he can, within his financial limitations, which include providing toys and trips to fairs for his intelligent, responsive son. The conversations are minimal and the performances of the first-time child actor Daniel Lamont under the tutelage of Pasolini reminds you of Charles Chaplin directing Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921) and perhaps even of Vittorio de Sica directing a relatively older Enzo Staiola in Bicycle Thieves (1948). Pasolini’s direction of James Norton as the father John, repressing anger, and alternating frustration with patience in Nowhere Special results in an amazingly controlled outcome. Pasolini had achieved a similar feat with Eddie Marsan in his earlier remarkable film, Still Life.

Are there similar patterns between Nowhere Special and Still Life? Both films study men’s actions in this life and the events after death. Death is the fulcrum of both films, philosophically. In Nowhere Special, John introduces the concept of death to his 3-year-old son by getting him to read about death of dinosaurs. The audience sees some manifestation of his son’s understanding that his father is tired/sick when the boy covers his sleeping father with the blanket that has partially fallen, possibly mimicking what his father would have done for him. Both films of Pasolini are a treat to study for colorful details that the director infuses into the narrative, one example being of John looking at the side mirror of his car to observe an older schoolboy with his bag walking back home, to imagine what Michael would be like when he grows up.  

The single father's treasure notices the tattoo,
which he tries to copy on his own hand

In bits and pieces of conversation in the film, we learn that John was an orphan and therefore is all the more interested that Michael has a good family to take care of him. In Still Life, the colorless bureaucrat, Mr. May, goes the extra mile to contact dead persons' relatives and friends and informs them of the death of their forgotten kith and kin. In Nowhere Special, it is a dying father worried about the future of his son if he hands him over to the wrong foster parents. “This is the most important decision of my life. How will I know if I got it right?” John bursts out his frustration at the quiet adoption agency staffer, who reminds him that the clock is ticking for him to make a decision about Michael. There is no obvious manifestation of his deteriorating health except for a bout of vomiting  (thankfully less repulsive realism than John Cassavetes’ 1970 film Husbands) and a sudden decision to stop working after having climbed a tall ladder to clean a window. I admire Pasolini’s ability to add small details in both his films that say a lot without spoken words. One example is saving John’s wife’s/spouse’s mitten left in the dashboard of his car (which he is now selling to evidently augment his purse as he has decided to stop working) to be included in a box of memorabilia for Michael, when he grows up, along with John’s photographs with Michael.  

Breaking the concept of time to his toddler
with 34 candles on John's birthday cake
It is important to compare and contrast Nowhere Special with Naomi Kawase’s Japanese film True Mothers—both films about adoption made the same year in different parts of the world. True Mothers is a film made by a lady director about real mothers and foster mothers of orphans in the contemporary world. In both films, the single parent is giving up their biological child for foster care out of extreme necessity. Both are remarkably well-made films. While religion is absent in the Japanese film, for Pasolini this is important in Nowhere Special as it was in Still Life. John teaches Michael to pray before he goes to sleep and John has a silent thought of his impending future as he stops his car at a red signal, and he  views a closed church with a cemetery, ending the short car halt with a smile, possibly indicating that he is now well prepared for the inevitable. Compared to Still Life, Nowhere Special has a muted dose of religion. 

John looking at the closed church and cemetery

John drives on with a telling smile

The final incredibly mature goodbye of a 3-year old

Unfortunately, compared to Still Life, Nowhere Special lacks the musical contribution of Pasolini’s wife, composer Rachel Portman, which had enriched the earlier work. Even without Ms Portman’s musical flourishes, Nowhere Special is a very rewarding viewing experience for viewers who are not mesmerized by escapist and unreal tales. Mr Pasolini, the late film maestro Luchino Visconti will be proud of you as his nephew putting so much care and thought into the films you make to entertain discerning viewers!



P.S.  Nowhere Special has won the Best Film award at the Pula (Croatia) film festival, and the Audience awards at the Warsaw (Poland) and the Valladolid (Spain) international film festivals. The director’s earlier film Still Life (2013), winner of the Best Film award in the Venice film festival’s Horizons section, and 18 other awards worldwide, has been reviewed earlier on this blog.  The other  Japanese film by director Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers discussed in the above review also has been reviewed earlier on this blog. (Click on the colored names of the films in the post-script to access the reviews.) Both Nowhere Special (2020) and True Mothers (2020) are included in the author’s list of best films of 2021.