‘Nothing wrong. He’s just old.’
Father and son problems form the basis of Nanouk Leopold’s It’s All So Quiet (adapted from the novel The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker), a laid back yet powerful drama. It raises issues of ageing, death, relationships and homosexuality in a manner that is wonderfully restrained as we follow the day-to-day life of the owner of a small dairy farm, a middle-aged man who is also caring for his aged father. The film is minimalist in implementation but themes of personal discovery, cultural integration, friendship and desire are inherent to the languid but distinctly realist drama.
Helmer (Jeroen Willems) is running a modestly sized farm in the Dutch countryside, trying to earn an income from cattle and milk, but with a sideline in (occasionally errant) sheep. His mother and his brother Geert have passed away so the only other family member residing in the household is his father (Henri Garcin), who is very old and ungrateful, something Helmer believes to be connected with his father still mourning the loss of his older brother who drowned many years ago. He adheres to his filial duty in caring for the old man, washing him, lifting him and providing food for him, if father can be bothered to eat it. Helmer’s existence is quiet and lonely but he interacts with a small number of local people, particularly dairy driver Johan (Wim Opbrouck ) who collects his milk and talks to him whenever he can. Help is needed to keep the farm functioning so Helmer employs a young farmhand Henk (Martijn Lakemeier), whom he allows to stay in Geert’s old room. Is there any possibility for continuity in Helmer’s life and could he begin to develop a relationship when the future, not least for his father and other members of the community, is in doubt? For Helmer it’s a matter of understanding his own desires and needs.
It’s All So Quiet is a tightly constructed but unhurriedly paced film which focuses on its protagonist, a man who has eschewed the modern world and its complications in favour of traditional farming techniques. The dairy processes are old school, no manure machines to clean out the cattle shed, much to Henk’s surprise, but old-fashioned shovels and hard graft. But this isn’t about the depiction of an ancient rural idyll but rather one that retains the traditional with an acute awareness of the modern.
Quiet and understated, this is a film that does not overtly discuss its themes or examine issues in microscopic detail. It is appropriately naturalistic, not voyeuristic, and addresses the needs of a middle aged man coming to terms with his identity and his emotions. It shows Helmer facing his relationship with his father in the context of the old man’s decline. The battles between the two – ‘I can walk myself,’ – ‘No you can’t’ – are inherent in the household relationship that place the farm and its residents into perspective, perhaps no more so than when Henk arrives. Henk has the potential – and, seemingly, desire – to change Helmer’s situation, to liberate him from his melancholy existence. But can Helmer allow himself to cast his responsibilities aside and be happy?
It’s All So Quiet is the best countryside drama you will see in a long while; low key and underplayed, it nevertheless makes for fascinating viewing.