By Don Simpson | November 18, 2010
Director: Urszula Antoniak
Writer: Urszula Antoniak
Starring: Lotte Verbeek, Stephen Rea
Alone in her empty Amsterdam flat, Anne (Lotte Verbeek) has discarded her furniture and personal belongings — even her wedding ring — thus severing all ties with her life in Holland. We next see Anne with no money, hitchhiking with a backpack and tent, eventually arriving in Ireland. She makes it quite obvious that she is distrustful of men, if not all people, and has absolutely no interest in getting to know anyone or having them getting to know her. Anne possesses an unyielding desire to lead a solitary and nomadic existence, wandering the stunning vistas of County Galway.
Anne stumbles upon a seaside cottage which is all but cut off from the rest of the world — an idyllic hideaway for a misanthropic hermit like herself. She discovers that a widower named Martin (Stephen Rea) lives in the cottage. Despite his reclusive ways, Martin proposes that Anne work in his garden in exchange for food. Anne agrees under one condition: no personal information will be exchanged between them (they have to sing a song as punishment if they initiate a personal discussion). Anne never divulges her name to Martin, she insists that he refer to her as “you.” Their lives begin to follow the traditional cycle of people living off of the land — early to bed and early to rise, with hearty meals to keep them working throughout the daylight hours. Both characters appear to be well-educated and cultured Europeans — pairing fancy meals with fine wines; well versed in music, literature and philosophy — they just prefer to retain their own personal space.
An Irish-Dutch co-production, Nothing Personal relishes in its own placidity as a quiet (practically unspoken) existential diatribe on individual freedoms and the need for solitude to collect one’s thoughts. Writer-director Urszula Antoniak’s feature film debut takes an incredibly staunch position on not revealing any personal information about its characters; Nothing Personal is character study which remains totally untarnished by the past. Anne and Martin, stubborn as they are, refuse to divulge any information about themselves; we are relegated to experiencing these characters as their relationship organically unfolds in the present. An incredibly intimate and personal story (gorgeously realized by cinematographer Daniël Bouquet), Nothing Personal purposefully handcuffs the audience by not having the traditional cinematic pieces of the formulaic puzzle to help us connect with the characters. For the first time in my life, I found myself pleading for some expository dialogue to trickle its way into a film; being a glutton for punishment, I can only applaud Antoniak for denying me of that wish and keeping up her end of the bargain.