Editor’s Note: the following review is reprinted from our coverage of the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It’s All So Quiet is out in limited release from Friday, January 9th
It’s not solely for stylistic reasons that It’s All So Quiet tips its hat toward the western work of John Ford in one striking shot of its middle-aged farmer protagonist emerging from his barn, framed in silhouette in the vast doorway. The agrarian narrative of this new film by Nanouk Leopold plays like a distinctly European take on the American west, a farm-as-frontier reimagining of the masculine mythos of that genre in a twenty-first century context. But if there’s a real comparison to be made here it’s to Pilgrim Hill, the recent Irish movie that told the same tale of a son saddled with the responsibility of his father’s farm, caught between the old world of the generation above and the new possibilities of the one below.
The meticulously detailed care of an infirm elder may draw our mind to Haneke, yet the dutiful demeanour of this son is less Amour than Obligation.
It’s telling that the title translates directly as Above it Is Silent; referring as much to the literal quietude of the bed-ridden patriarch-that-was as to the miscommunication between him and his son, Leopold’s film forges from elements of the utmost subtlety a melancholy lament of a lost generation. The meticulously detailed care of an infirm elder may draw our mind to Haneke, yet the dutiful demeanour of this son is less Amour than Obligation. That’s not to say that he does it disdainfully: the real allure of lead Jeroen Willems—to whom the film is dedicated, after a tragically young death—is the engrained acceptance he brings to the role, the silent sense of having long ago accepted his lot in life. It’s hard to miss the cue when he carefully places into frame an apple and glass of water by his father’s bed: this is a still life indeed.
His is a more personal tale than that of Pilgrim Hill: as much as the movie might make keen use of the ailing father as a piercing body politic—the sequence in which he’s exhaustingly wrenched up a flight of stairs says it all—It’s All So Quiet is less state of the nation than state of the man as a product of the nation. The narrative that gradually unfurls across its reserved runtime is one of repressed desires and latent demands, of pleasures denied under the auspices of a society that needn’t speak out against them to make its stance known. Leopold’s is a commentary so subtle it’s easy to miss, just like the distant yet dominant church spire that creeps into view from the fog in her opening shots.
…as much as the movie might make keen use of the ailing father as a piercing body politic—the sequence in which he’s exhaustingly wrenched up a flight of stairs says it all—It’s All So Quiet is less state of the nation than state of the man as a product of the nation.
Yet never is hers a film of anything but the utmost reverence in how it goes about framing this story, resigning all critique to the inference of a pained glance. In one gorgeous shot of the farmer and a regular visitor who becomes increasingly obvious as the object of his affections, the camera slowly rolls from side to side, foregoing cross-cutting in favour of an approach that emphasises the aversion of the eyes. It’s a moment almost as awkwardly funny as it is terribly sad; here are two people, for reasons beyond them, who have no idea at all how to approach the feelings between them. How sorry it is to see them struggle. How nice it is to think, however unlikely, that they might find a way.
That they won’t is not a foregone conclusion, and as much as this might be a film of missed opportunities, Leopold looks at her country and characters with a gaze that’s oddly optimistic, in spite of it all. From the neighbouring kids who happily run amidst the donkeys and sheep to the young farmhand who comes briefly to stay—in one of the film’s most thematically telling yet narratively misjudged moves—there’s a sense here that maybe, just maybe, the next generation might be alright. The eponymous silence, after all, is as soothing as it is static: like the world it prettily presents, It’s All So Quiet has a lot to offer to let us forgive its limitations.
Like the world it prettily presents, It’s All So Quiet has a lot to offer to let us forgive its limitations.