There’s literally no way to miss the memo that It’s All So Quiet is about dealing with the encroachment of death, as it’s there in every scene. A middle-aged farmer, Helmer (Jeroen Willems), feeds and bathes his old, incapacitated father (Henri Garcin). They share a cold relationship, and if they speak at all, it’s about how the father feels like he’s going to die, or that he wants to die. Helmer roams the house alone doing chores and tends to the farm animals outside, ambient scenes that exist to emphasize how he’s working alone because his father’s dying. In the rare instances when he runs into another person, the conversations often circle back to the fact that his father’s dying. A clock often ticks in the background, a reminder that his father’s dying. Throughout all this, Helmer holds one affectless, vaguely pained expression, presumably because his father’s dying. Guess what the father looks like and why.
Obviously striving for “elemental,” It’s All So Quiet winds up torpid and vacuous, yet another willfully emptied-out exercise in festival-friendly austere naturalism. Director Nanouk Leopold inherits a rigid aesthetic schema and sticks to it wholesale: hard, jarring cuts from silence to noise and stasis to action; a dependence on overcast natural light; long handheld takes of physical labor; prolonged studies of blank expressions; the occasional jump cut. All these tics belong to an affected style forever in thrall to grave “realism,” but which in fact only betray here a failure to interrogate the inner logic of the drama. Leopold’s slim narrative is ostensibly slim so as to redirect attention to more important existential matters, but the redundancy of the content and the impenetrability of Willems’s wandering, sulking presence do little to illuminate this hypothetical truth.
The scope of the film’s narrative does eventually expand ever so slightly with the introduction of a third key character, a young farmhand, Henk (Martijn Lakemeier), whose mere presence is apparently enough for Helmer to hand him a job as his assistant (Leopold’s dodging of basic plot points goes well past productive elision and into unproductive strangeness). They work together a bit, share some prematurely cut-off conversations and plenty of uncomfortable side-eye silences, and then Henk makes a pass at Helmer while he sleeps. An ensuing fragment of dialogue (one imagines the script written with one line on each page) from Helmer to his father reveals in a regrettably blunt manner that he may in fact be a repressed homosexual, that his father may have once physically abused him, and that these two facts may be linked. This new information suggests Leopold is trying to mount a story of middle-age renewal and the welcome dissolution of a troubling past, but it’s too little too late. The film’s stingy in exploring this thread, preferring to fizzle out on the literal-minded severity with which it began. So naturally, It’s All So Quiet wraps up with—what else?—Helmer’s father dying.