Saturday, May 11, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: The Place of No Words

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

The Place of No Words
Directed by Mark Webber
US Narrative Competition

Children have a unique way of seeing the world, able to conjure up incredible interpretations of simple events that can make them truly magical. Playing at a park or with toys can seem like the greatest adventure, and, as such, it can be a way of helping them to cope with real-life stressors that might be far beyond the grasp of their comprehension. For the adults in their lives, existing in that same imagined space may be helpful and necessary, particularly if they’re not able to control events around them.

Clad in fur and wielding a sword, a father (Mark Webber) journeys through the mountains with his young son (Bodhi Palmer), exploring the vast countryside and encountering wondrous creatures and sights along the way. Simultaneously, that same father is seen in the present day, slowly becoming sicker as the result of a terminal illness while trying to spend time with his son. The child’s mother (Teresa Palmer) works with the father to keep the child happy while they endure the pain of watching a deterioration they can’t stop.

This film might be appropriately described as a subtler, fantastical version of “Life is Beautiful” in which a father goes to extraordinarily lengths to entertain his child when he knows that death is imminent and there is nothing he can do to reverse or prevent it. In this case, it’s far from a joke, but instead a chance to escape into a world defined primarily by adventure and wonder. What’s so mesmerizing about this quiet film is that it’s never confirmed or even expressed who it is experiencing the hallucination of this trek through the past. While it might be the son who processes his grief and emotions through this outlet, it’s also an opportunity for the father to be able to journey with his son in a safe, marvelous place, his own manner of coping with the inevitable.

Most impressive about this film is that Webber stars with his real-life son, who is now five years old. His wife and Bodhi’s mother Teresa also appears in the film, and this family performance is truly effective and exceptional. This is not Webber’s first time acting with a child of his, and he seems to have a particular knack for it. While not much necessarily happens over the course of this film’s runtime, it’s a powerful and meaningful look at a close bond disrupted by impossible realities and preserved by a shared imagination, using little to say plenty.


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