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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Death is the only natural absolute in life. It is a certainty wrapped up in mystery, which fascinates and horrifies us in equal measure. Little wonder then, that death is such a strong theme in all art forms – and especially in cinema. You might think that every possible death-related scenario has already been played out onscreen – but Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special is a very original take on a story about the end of life.
Transposed to an unspecified town in Northern Ireland, Nowhere Special is about a window cleaner called John (James Norton) who lives with his four-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont). From the opening scenes it is clear that John is a loving father whose devotion is reciprocated by the little boy. John wants to choose the family with whom his child will live after his death. In the company of a young social worker (Valene Kane), father and son visit various families who have been approved to adopt.
Though very young, Michael knows something is happening, but his father simply does not know how to explain it. We are not told John is ill, but it becomes apparent. And we see the boy disturbed by a strangeness that he can sense but not understand. Norton is wonderful in Nowhere Special – soft and reserved, but full of the unsaid. In cinema, many famous characters have been forged by the loss of a parent. However, the concept of preparing children for the imminent death of a parent is relatively unusual.
Nowhere Special avoids melodrama at all costs. Neither Pasolini nor the actors milk the emotion, so the film gets under your skin without ripping your heart to shreds. “Death” is never mentioned, the details of John’s illness are mostly avoided, though clearly there is something wrong. This gives a powerful sense of the hovering threat that Michael feels as a small child. Despite its inherent heartbreak, there is something peaceful, even uplifting about Nowhere Special, and the feeling lingers after the credits have rolled.