By Don Simpson | May 29, 2015
Director: Nathan Silver
Writers: Nathan Silver, Chloe Domont, Cody Stokes
Starring: David Dahlbom, India Menuez, Hannah Gross, Tallie Medel, Caitlin Mehner, Gina Piersanti, Cindy Silver, Casey Drogin, Adinah Dancyger, Nathan Silver, Bettina Skye
Uncertain Terms commences with a moment of Godardian self-reflexivity, featuring audio segment from a Filmwax Radio interview with the film’s writer-director Nathan Silver. Despite the overwhelming organic nature of Uncertain Terms, the audio clip cleverly prepares us to enter another stage of Silver’s impressively productive cinematic universe. Uncertain Terms is a remarkably mature film that establishes a unique yet coherent cinematic language. The micro-budget production seems unassumingly simple, yet the sublimely assured production suggests something made on a much bigger budget.
Presented as slice of life, Uncertain Terms often enters and exits scenes in medias res. The narrative perspective and structure suggest that the audience are voyeurs, privy to experience precisely selected moments of the protagonists’ existence. When Robbie (David Dahlbom) enters the film, it is after he has already run away from his failing marriage in Brooklyn. He appears at his aunt Carla’s (Cindy Silver) rural abode for pregnant teenagers in search of asylum and we are unpreparedly submerged into the lives of the young mothers-to-be right alongside Robbie.
Robbie instantly finds himself in the awkward situation of being the only man in Carla’s house. For the most part, Robbie keeps to himself, taking shelter in the basement in between handyman jobs for his aunt. By no means a stereotypical heartthrob, Robbie nonetheless attracts the gaze of the highly hormonal young women. As the odds would suggest, Robbie finds himself enamored with Nina (India Menuez), a stunning ginger with the mesmerizing allure of an Irish fairy. They initially bond over their relationship woes, but their friendship grows messy and complicated as it breeds jealously among the sexually-charged household (take note of the seminal scene that is brilliantly choreographed to Khia’s “My Neck, My Back”). It may seem that Robbie only wants to protect Nina from her good-for-nothing baby daddy (Casey Drogin), but his help only seems to stir up more trouble for her.
Once a knocked-up teen herself, Carla understands the girls’ need for safety and stability. By introducing an older male to her household, especially one in the midst of marital problems, Carla naively upsets the balance that she has worked so hard to achieve. It is clear that she trusts her nephew, but the decision to allow him to live in the house is a bit risky. Robbie seems astutely cognizant of not seeming too predatory, though his relationship with Nina is quite precarious, considering that she is in a vulnerable situation and so dependent upon the care of Robbie’s aunt.
A tranquil exploration of forbidden desire, Uncertain Terms is told primarily from Robbie’s vantage point. The film’s perspective, however, has no correlation to Silver’s opinion of the characters. In fact, there is no apparent sense of favoritism — Silver may historically tend to prefer his female protagonists, but Uncertain Terms seems more focused on presenting everyone without bias. Uncertain Terms purposefully avoids pitying anyone; the characters are fully responsible for their current situation. At times, Uncertain Terms may resemble Éric Rohmer’s films, yet Silver’s approach is free of any high-brow moralism; by no means a “lesson film,” what the characters take away from their experiences barely registers. Uncertain Terms drills in on the desire to temporarily escape from society, then waiting until the most opportune time to reemerge. Silver juxtaposes the strict timeline of the pregnant teens with Robbie’s more elastic agenda. The pregnant teens have no choice but to become mothers and immediately find jobs; Robbie, however, is under no such pressure.
Lensed with unbridled authenticity by the overwhelmingly talented Cody Stokes, Uncertain Terms rests heavily upon the atmospheric setting of rural New York. Similar to Sophia Takal’s Green, the surrounding landscape of Uncertain Terms presents a strangely foreboding sense of menace, as if something is lurking offscreen that will eventually force the film to transgress into utter mayhem and/or violence.