The deafening silence between father and son
by Boyd van Hoeij
- Pictures can say more than a thousand words, but what if one does not want to speak?
A lack of communication creates a seemingly unbridgeable rift between father and son in the lyrical Dutch drama Northern Light [+see also:
interview: David Lammers
interview: Jeroen Beker
film profile], the feature film debut of laurelled shorts director David Lammers. It is a story of few words and many pictures, a minimalist tale that tries – and succeeds – in visualising the plunging emotional depths of that rare species of uncommunicative animals that are the human males.
Father Lucien (theatre actor Raymond Thiry) is the owner of a boxing school in a Northern neighbourhood of Amsterdam, where he trains and councils kids from the lower classes and immigrant families. His young costumers find the power to excel through Lucien’s encouragement, though it becomes clear that he probably is such a spirited coach because being a workaholic makes him forget about his troubles at home. His 15-year-old son Mitchel is not the problem – the elephant in the room that explains why they are only a two-man household is.
Northern Light is a film about the conflict between father and son as expressed through their deafening silence. The film is not about how the conflict came about or even about how it will be resolved (though there is a definite sense of closure to the film), which makes Lammers’s film atypical in the Dutch cinematic landscape, deriving its sense of direction not from going forward, but from going deeper.
Mitchel (in a wonderfully nuanced performance from Dai Carter) is ostensibly a typical teenager: he is desperate to be independent and is interested in girls. Living alone with a father who ferociously trains champions barely Mitchel’s age is not easy on him and when he finally finds the courage to speak up, he does so without words. The screenplay, written by the director, is unusually perceptive about the interplay between pictures and words and he does not shy away from letting the pictures speak for themselves, which, in this film about lack of communication, threads contents and form together to create a strong emotional resonance.
Lammers, belying his relatively little experience, also deftly retains some of the enigmatic qualities of both words and pictures, as he draws his portrait not only of Lucien and Mitchel’s relationship but also of the neighbourhood in which they live. Northern Light teems with life in the background, suggesting a much wider orbit of untold stories in which the central characters move. In the Amsterdam neighbourhood portrayed, Lucien and Mitchel’s drama seems to be but one of many.