Although perhaps better known as a producer of such films as The Full Monty, Palookaville, and Bel Ami, Uberto Pasolini is already on his third film as a director. After Machan and the excellent Still Life, his latest effort Nowhere Special was an Orizzonti entry at the recent Venice Film Festival which has now made it into the Rome Film Fest line-up as well. The Italian director again employs his calm and determined style that is void of any sentimentalism in this quiet and intimate family drama around a father and son relationship that is about to be torn apart.
35-year-old window cleaner John (James Norton) is a single father who lovingly raises his 4-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont) after the boy’s mother left them soon after he was born. After being diagnosed with a terminal disease and given a few months left to live, the impossible task of finding a new family for Michael is thrust upon John. Himself a product of the social care system and without family except for the boy, John is initially certain of what the perfect picture for Michael would look like, but gradually doubt creeps in and he becomes less convinced of his own judgement in the brief encounters he has with prospective new parents for his son. Does he know his own child well enough to make this decision? As he struggles with this dilemma he starts to accept the guidance of young social worker Shona (Eileen O’Higgins), who is willing to stake her job to find a solution for John and Michael. With her help he starts to accept his terrible fate, comes to terms with the need to tell Michael the truth, and learns to trust his son’s instincts on this momentous decision.
Pasolini follows in the footsteps of his inspirations Yasujirō Ozu and the brothers Dardenne in how he keeps Nowhere Special devoid of any overt melodrama, letting the heartbreaking story quietly play out without any stylistic flourishes. The drama, inspired by a true story, doesn’t need them. Pasolini, who also wrote the screenplay, trusts his audience’s empathy and patience, and relies strongly on his two main actors to convey the deep emotions that form Nowhere Special‘s undercurrent. In James Norton, mostly known for his TV work, he finds a reserved father who doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. The deep sadness in Norton’s eyes tells the viewer all they need to know about John’s inner turmoil, with frustration only once getting the better of him. It is a tremendous performance, not in the least given that Norton is performing opposite a four-year-old. But young Daniel Lamont gives an equally natural performance as a boy going through a process with his father that he can’t quite understand, which must have been the same for Lamont himself. Pasolini’s strength as a director is probably most exemplified by conjuring a performance like this from such a young actor, but he also uses some sly camera angles to put us in Michael’s place at times.
Nowhere Special is not a film that dazzles, going for subtlety all through its 90-minute runtime, but it creates a fully believable father-son relationship and has an interesting, if decidedly downbeat, angle on parenthood. Its low key approach may be too subdued for some audiences, but anyone who is a fan of the aforementioned masters Ozu or Dardenne will find in this film a quiet masterpiece that draws you in through strong characterization and an involving, universal story.