Nathan Silver’s Uncertain Terms – a melancholic picture of what life was for a brief moment.

uncertain terms
Uncertain Terms (2014)

With some anticipation I decided to devote the whole 7th day of the festival to the international premiere of Nathan Silver’s Uncertain Terms.

It was fairly chosen since it is a film you rather keep with you for a while – somehow comfortably paralysed, like the main characters at some point are – and let it settle in you, instead of leaping into the immediate next. These characters are not only Nina (India Menuez) and Robbie (David Dahlbom) but also the house where they are temporarily living and the forest which surrounds it. That house is also comfortably paralysed, as a place that resets itself endlessly and exists almost outside the same time parameters as the rest of the world. There is an “outside”, a world that keeps moving forward, and that’s exactly why these characters chose to be here; they want time to stop and let them exist in a vertical rather than horizontal way, I guess – almost all the action is played up and down the three floors of the house and the only times the characters walk further from the house is to reflect and talk or to make phone calls (i.e. access the horizontal world).

And it is in this interlude of life (as in Rohmer, yes, so you can guess the end already), this benign suspension of time, that we are presented to a group of pretty teenage pregnant girls who live together in a beautiful house within an idyllic forest and are taken care by a very understanding and wise woman. All these adjectives aren’t accessories or dismissible, they are fundamental for the dreamlike suspension and consequently for what is outside that dream, which are all the problems the characters hanged up for a while, thus their insides, their minds. Everything bad and ugly comes from the exterior (e.g. obsessive or insulting phone calls; angry violent boyfriends) so you just need to get inside the house, let the phone ring or throw it in the woods and keep the delusion.

Delusion is a keyword here, as the director explicitly mentioned in the Q&A after the screening I attended. It is what makes Robbie, the handyman in the house who is running from his personal problems, foresee a possible relationship and future with Nina, one of the pregnant girls and it is what give them all the possibility of living, till an uncertain term, an ascending life. One with a chance for reflection or dream. Nina and Robbie relationship can only exist in that realm, as it is clear in the “magical” moment (just after the intrusion of reality) of the driving lesson – Nina, being taught how to drive by Robbie, can only move the car few meters ahead and is constantly pushing the break, in a very evident and humorous impossibility or denial to move forward.

The delusion lovers plot finds its way and grows among ensemble scenes, with a scent of documentary – to which the director’s mother gripping performance and real life experience with the subject much contribute – and everything unfolds in the most natural way. The cinematography and art direction are brilliant building an unison of all the elements that creates the unity for the dreamlike feeling of interlude and leisure. The music punctuates rarely but in precise moments and the attention to detail is fundamental to create the frame supporting the fragile plot.

It all breaks down in the end, sure. Real world makes a violent entrance slapping people, waking them up to reality. Everything goes back to its right places (remember Rohmer) and we’re left with a melancholic picture of what life was for a brief moment; that was life.

Part of the competition and one of my favourites of the festival till now, I’ll surely come back to it later with more proper time.

UPDATE: In between sessions at the EIFF I had a chance to have a chat with Nathan Silver – you can read the interview here. We talked about Rohmer, kindness, his mother (also his actress) Henry James, Don Quixote and much more.

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