It’s All So Quiet Dir. Nanouk Leopold

[Big World Pictures; 2014]

Styles: dying father, realism
Others: Floating Islands, Guernsey

When Michael Haneke’s Amour came out, I saw it alone in a tiny theater full of white-haired couples who mostly slept through the story of a man watching his wife’s aged body deteriorate post-stroke. At least two men started snoring. I cried and thought of my grandparents, who hate me and my liberal social work background, and I imagined my grandmother’s demise in a cold bed made colder by her bitterness and disgust with aging, and the probable reticence my grandfather would have at touching her dead body. The love story unfolding onscreen was heartbreaking to watch, not because it’s man losing the love of his life to old age, but because the love story is so far from the cold, boring reality of bodies decomposing in rooms together. But who am I kidding, we go to the movies for reprieve. Every second of the day we’re shedding dead skin, coating objects around us with flakes of death. Our disintegration is tedious and mundane, and love doesn’t stand a chance. My grandmother is taking a really long time to die, and my relatives discuss her posthumous finances with orgiastic glee over breakfast, and I want to vomit. It’s a terrible life.

Nanouk Leopold’s It’s All So Quiet is sort of an anti-Amour, as it, like dying, is a lengthy boredom one must endure to get to the end without a lover to take us there. Based on a bestselling novel, it follows the last days spent between a middle-aged farmer, Helmer (Jeroen Willems, who recently, ominously, passed away), and his dying father (Henri Garcin). Helmer has major Daddy issues, and handles his father’s body like a sack of potatoes as he transports him from a piss-stained death bed to a stool in the shower, and then back again. The dying are a lot of work. The first time I ever picked up my grandmother I thought my back would give out. It’s endearing how bad we feel, watching our elders die, and our desire to hand them off like used goods to saintly nurses and caretakers who make barely enough money to support themselves. There are few things so fucked as our ignorance and lack of support for gerontology. Out of sight, out of mind, like good Americans. It’s All So Quiet asks us to do the opposite, to sit, as Helmer does, day in and day out with the dying, to see our sloppy alien selves decaying under bedsheets with thread counts outlasting our own mortality. Whereas Haneke looks on these final moments with love, Leopold sets out to trust us enough to look on with calm neutrality, even boredom, asking nothing of us but to watch the dead win. She succeeds in this stark portrayal for the first half of the film, but a certain self-consciousness creeps its way into the remaining half.

At its best, art can be the profound realization of the invisible. When something so loaded and melodramatic as Helmer’s hatred for his father is articulated with a reference to past abuses, and Helmer’s repressed homosexuality is put on display as a young farmhand crawls into his bed and cries, the invisible seems less profound and, yes, visible. We become inadvertently tethered to it, thus the realization happens for us, and it’s a disappointing heavy handedness that Leopold so artfully avoided for the first half of the film. The sad reverie of the morning light, the radius of Helmer’s slow shadow as he herds his sheep and cleans the house, the thin apparition of his father like a stain, the animal noises and bodies bloating the air with their whines and stink — all of this creates a feeling of consciousness as ontological agony. We don’t need Helmer telling us Daddy beat the shit out of him, nor do we need a twink in his bed. His jaw is gayer than any scripted scene, and his eyes shine with the dark totality of hate. It’s a shame that impatience is such a target audience and filmmakers are quick to explain. Death needs no explanation; it’s that good.

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