TIFF 2023 | Not A Word (Hanna Slak, Germany/Slovenia/France) — Platform

By Saffron Maeve

[Email to editor upon submission of capsule; “why is every movie TÁR?????”] 

It now seems a cinematic truth that conducting Mahler’s 5th Symphony with the Berlin Philharmonic consigns one to existential fracture or total erosion. Nina (Maren Eggert), the accomplished protag of Hanna Slak’s Not A Word, is in the middle of conducting rehearsal when she is whisked off stage with the news that her teenage son Lars (Jona Levin Nicolai) has been concussed at school, under conditions which suggest self-harm. He’s a sullen kid, resistant to acknowledging the recent death of a classmate, and clearly not jiving with his mother. In response, Nina takes Lars to a frosty, remote island where they used to summer. As he begins to exhibit violent tendencies—putting a fist through his dinner plate, tackling a girl in town, attempting to set fire to a maimed bird—Nina suspects Lars’ involvement in his classmate’s murder. The film’s anemic palette and picturesque hills and estuaries (shot by Claire Mathon, though you wouldn’t know it) do the grunt work, establishing an uncanny milieu for this two-hander to fulminate. A last-gasp bit of heart does little to carry the uneven plot and does worse to suggest arguing with your asshole kid will bring you closer to Mahler.