Review: Nowhere Special
by Marta Bałaga
- VENICE 2020: Uberto Pasolini brings some tenderness to the Italian festival, with a story about a young father who learns how to let go
Still better known for his work as a producer than a director, Uberto Pasolini has already established himself as a master of eliciting gentle, quiet performances from his leads. He did so with Eddie Marsan in his previous, Venice-bound title Still Life [+see also:
interview: Uberto Pasolini
film profile], and now – with Nowhere Special [+see also:
interview: Uberto Pasolini
film profile], following that 2013 title right into the Orizzonti section – he does likewise with James Norton, of Mr. Jones [+see also:
interview: Agnieszka Holland
film profile] and Little Women fame. Here, he is cast as a struggling single dad faced with two terrifying prospects: his own terminal illness and the fact that after he is gone, there will be no one around to take care of his small son (Daniel Lamont).
It’s a premise that’s ripe with tear-jerker potential and in somebody else’s hands would probably end up as one, but Pasolini, despite having made only three films to date, doesn’t seem to go for the usual terms of endearment. Neither does his new protagonist, really, but although he is used to keeping himself pretty much to himself, John also clearly loves his kid – so much so that the prospect of finding him a new, loving home trumps any other worry.
Predictably, it’s an odd process, consisting of speed dates with potential parents, all sharing different stories and a different kind of chemistry with his child, unaware of what it is they are really shopping for here. John, earning a meagre living cleaning windows and peeking into the rooms of wealthier families, wants his son to have more – more than he could ever have given him. With his mother out of the picture, save for a fleeting mention about her returning to Russia, no return address provided, he also, rather conservatively, seems to gravitate towards a more stable family unit. But what looks right doesn’t necessarily feel right, and he is running out of time.
There are a lot of dilemmas shown here, but they are treated with kindness – like the concept of a “memory box”, harbouring personal souvenirs from biological parents that the child can get access to later on. “What would you like your son to know about you?” John is asked, but he hesitates, wanting his four-year-old to just go and start over. With such sombre discussions, it’s no wonder that death regularly pops up in conversations, with someone sharing a tale about a deceased mother, for example, who still “sits” at her bed at night, coming in for a pleasant chat.
This is a hard life that Pasolini is showing, one of constant struggle and hurt – at one point, even the mellow John can’t help but egg somebody’s windows after an especially nasty exchange – but instead of milking it, the film finds some joy in its story. It’s the kind of joy that comes simply from father and son being together, walking and talking, even with that dreadful deadline already looming on the cloudy horizon. It might be small and unassuming, but for the most part, Nowhere Special has its heart in the right place.
Written and produced by Uberto Pasolini, Nowhere Special is an Italian-British-Romanian co-production staged by Roberto Sessa and Cristian Nicolescu for Picomedia and Digital Cube. It was made in association with RAI Cinema, and its world sales are overseen by Beta Cinema.
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