Review: Things Unsaid
by David Katz
- In Macedonian director Eleonora Veninova’s feature debut, an unsettled teenager disrupts a middle-class couple’s apparently secure marriage
Gentle character dramas such as Things Unsaid [+see also:
film profile] typically aim to give a cautious glimpse into human psychology, so making its primary male role, Fillip (played by Blagoj Veselinov), a professional psychologist is either a show of honesty, or just obviousness. Anna (Kamka Tocinovski), his spouse, is an art photographer specialising in moody, domestic scenes – another avatar for what this filmmaker is attempting. The third wheel creating a kind of unsteady dramatic balance, or the final edge of this platonic love triangle, is the 17-year-old daughter of their friends, who has come to essentially “crash” at their attractive coastal house in quite mysterious circumstances. So it’s evident from the first moments of her feature debut that Macedonian director Eleonora Veninova has a gift for a passive-aggressive dramatic set-up.
But having said this, in Things Unsaid – which premiered in the Cairo International Film Festival’s International Competition – dramatic developments simmer, rather than combust, Veninova’s screenplay deftly exploring the potential resonance of the title, without resorting to bald ironies. But whilst Maja (Sara Klimoska), the troubled interloping teenager, does initially seem set up as a troubling catalyst who’ll upset their domestic harmony, instead, she gently triggers the couple to crumble of their own accord. Creepily evoking a daughter or niece, rather than a family friend (especially when she coquettishly comes on to both of them), Maja seems wiser and more liberated for the sole fact of her inability to leave things very much unsaid.
Veninova excels in fashioning this claustrophobic scenario, and can closely establish where patriarchal control is still evident even in a setting that feels deceptively quite benign. But across the film’s short length, we still butt up against the limit of where she could potentially take the story – the clever dramatic restrictions eventually come to feel like stasis, and a confrontation in the film’s final moments designed to be a revelatory moment of agency for one of the characters only mimics the terms of a jolting discovery in the first act. There’s also a strained pathetic fallacy, to use the literary term, involving a stray dog that constantly returns to the early-middle-aged couple’s patio. It’s a peculiar way to create further imagery of trespassing, especially given how Maja starts resembling a surrogate child to them, their initial hospitality burgeoning into something like love.
In this crisp, attentive piece, slowly alternating between a cautious, observational style and tremulous melodrama, Veninova’s potential connection to this begins troubling the viewer. Not the idea of autobiography – more so, which of the two generations she relates to and favours more (currently in her early thirties, she’s situated between them in age), and whether the articulacy of the professional couple, versus the plaited-haired high-school flunker, masks certain topics they’re too inhibited to ever address.
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