Lonely Figures in a Landscape

in 61st Locarno International Film Festival

by Magdalena Hirsiger

Nothing PersonalCardboard boxes on a pavement: clothes, dishes, bric-a-brac. A young woman sitting on the floor of an empty flat. Her long, red hair shimmering in the wintery light, her transparent, green eyes shining in a pale, elegantly proportioned face. A hand draws a wedding-ring from the finger of another hand. The young woman looks at the ringless hand. Thus begins Nothing Personal, a film directed by the Polish-born Urszula Antoniak, who lives in the Netherlands. It turned out to be the most impressive film in the rather weak competition of the 62nd International Film Festival in Locarno.          

After this final separation the protagonist (Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek)  is sent on a journey in search of a life. With a small tent, a sleeping bag, and some bare necessities the young woman travels from Holland to Ireland, walking for days alone in isolated regions. She then meets a family having a picnic in the rain who ask her: “Do you need anything?”, to which the young woman replies: “No, do you?” 

This exchange of words sets the tone which is consistently followed throughout the film. The abandoned woman shows her anger and defiance, she doesn’t want to be helped by anybody though occasionally she hitches a ride on her journey without aim. Her trust in men is completely gone. The slightest overture causes her to let herself fall out of a moving car. The self-chosen, hard way into isolation is melted by the lonely, yet beautiful countryside of Connemara. Gradually a second person joins her. In a lonely house by the sea,  the woman sees a man getting into a boat and sailing off. The door being ajar, she enters the house, puts on a CD (music composed by Ethan Rose, who has also worked with Gus van Sant), which reinforces the mood.            

Soon she encounters an older man (Stephen Rea), a widower who lives alone and goes through life working hard. He asks her to stay, to work in the garden. She stays on condition that he doesn’t ask any questions, not even her name. She insists on having her meals outside in the cold. She goes on sleeping in her tent. Yet slowly she again finds a way towards another human being, still defiant, but gently getting closer to this kind, patient man, without starting a relationship which the viewer very much would have wished for her, so that the world might be put in order again.            

Urszula Antoniak doesn’t fall into this trap. The film, a kind of duel between two archetypes, between the rebel and the sage, in the end takes a poetic turn without betraying the radical position. Until the end the director sticks to a consistent narrative, telling the story of two people who have and want to find a new orientation in their lives. Nothing Personal for Antoniak means: no personal objects anymore, getting rid of everything that reminds one of a relationship. This is what she experienced herself.              

“We are slaves of all the things we possess. Only solitude remains where we can find ourselves again”, she explained.  

Edited by Ronald Bergan