Review: A dying father and his young son journey to ‘The Place of No Words’
In the atmospheric drama/fantasy “The Place of No Words,” parents attempt an unenviable task: guiding a young child through his father’s terminal illness.
It’s accurate but feels like a disservice to label the film a “drama/fantasy,” because it is rooted in reality. The fantasy element comes from the “hero’s journey,” an odyssey on which the dying father accompanies the boy (in the boy’s imagination) to help him transition to the new world that won’t have his father in it. The rest of the film is rooted in reality largely because it’s a continuation of writer-director-editor-producer-star Mark Webber’s experiments with casting real families (principally his own) and friends in his work and letting those relationships inform the films. That might raise red flags warning of self-indulgence and cringe-worthy acting, but his real-life wife happens to be veteran actress Teresa Palmer (playing his wife in the film). As 3-year-old Bodhi, his real-life son, Bodhi Palmer, delivers a remarkable, guileless performance.
The movie deftly weaves the worlds together. There’s the time-hopscotching reality of the young father and mother dealing with the father’s impending death while trying to make his final days with the boy as happy and loving as possible. Then there’s the mystical quest the father and son undertake in Viking garb over mountains and through a dark forest straight out of a Joseph Campbell book. The flowing back-and-forth between settings works well, with Webber using only a few direct touchstones to connect them.
A father and young son undertake a mystical odyssey in one reality as, in another, the family faces a terminal illness in Mark Webber’s “The Place of No Words.”
Cinematically, it draws influence from Terence Malick, but in a good way. It’s atmospheric, but not at the expense of emotion and humor. Its makers craft strong senses of place and the meanings of those places. Patrice Lucien Cochet’s textured cinematography can make us feel like flies on the wall (or trees) overhearing intimate moments or makes us notice key details. Cochet and Webber allow much of the story to be related by the expressions and body language of adults listening to Bodhi. The judicious use of Dustin Hughes’ visual effects and the superb location scouting throughout (production design by Ciaran Thompson) help make the distinct worlds plausible in the moment. Sound designer Nathan Ruyle should be remembered at awards time for his immersive soundscape, including the unobtrusive deployment of Lindsay Marcus’ lovely score.
“The Place of No Words” won’t be for everyone. It doesn’t really have a plot, despite the hero’s-journey-type fantasy. As another artist might have put it, it’s about a family trying to do the unimaginable; in real life, it’s probably not too often there’s a beginning, middle and end to that story. They grapple with ways to make the boy comprehend and to make the last leg of their journey together a beautiful one. Without making the parents too heroic, the film understands, as one of its characters says, that at some point “it’s not about you.” Even when it’s your life that’s ending.
'The Place of No Words'
Rating: Unrated (adult themes)
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Release info: Available on digital and VOD October 23, 2020.
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