Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2020: "Uncle"

Michael Hayward

We make our way gradually into the world of Uncle without a single word of dialogue to guide us. A young woman wakes in a simply-furnished room. She dresses, then walks to a nearby bedroom where she helps an older man to dress. The man is her uncle, and we later learn that he is dealing with the effects of a stroke. They breakfast together at an arborite-topped kitchen table: toast with Nutella, muesli, and coffee, while the TV news drones on just offscreen. Later, we see them working together—silently—in a fluorescent-lit barn, milking and feeding cows, the uncle using a walker to get around.

Their lunch routine resembles that of breakfast. After lunch the uncle naps on a couch, while the young woman distributes more feed to the cows. They fold laundry together, silently. Later they drive from the farm to a nearby supermarket, and slowly make their way up and down the aisles, gradually filling the cart. Eight minutes and 45 seconds have passed before we hear the first word of dialogue: "Nutella?" Everything they do has been done hundreds—probably thousands—of times before.

It may take some effort to slow yourself down to the deliberate pace of this fine Danish film, directed by Frelle Petersen, but the effort will be rewarded. The cast is excellent, and we are reminded that dialogue is not the only way one learns what is going on inside a character's head.

Jette Søndergaard plays the young woman, Kris, and Peter H. Tygesen (Søndergaard's real-life uncle, and the owner of the farm shown in the film) plays her uncle. The drama that slowly emerges stems from the conflict between Kris's devotion to her uncle, and her long-suppressed yearning for something more from life, something other than farming.

And there are opportunities for change. A kindly vet encourages Kris's evident interest in veterinary science by loaning her books, and by taking her with him on visits to nearby farms. A young man, Mike, invites Kris for dinner at a local mill. Unable to shed her loyalties and responsibilities for even a single evening, she shows up with her uncle and his walker in tow.

Uncle had its world premiere at the 2019 Tokyo International Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix for best film. Uncle is available for streaming through the VIFF Connect app until October 7th. A trailer for the film can be viewed here. Visit the VIFF website for more information on VIFF 2020.



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