You’d be forgiven if the broadest strokes of Not A Word make the film, written and directed by Hanna Slak, sound familiar enough to dismiss. Case in point: the film regards a blonde, female conductor intently preparing—at the expense of all else—for the performance of a Mahler symphony. The film differs from there, but yes, TÁR does spring to mind.
It’s admittedly unfair to compare the two films further, though, as Not A Word is of a much smaller scope than its predecessor and provides much less ambiguity of intent. The film regards Nina (Maren Eggert), who is diligently working away when she receives word her troubled son Lars (Jona Levin Nicolai) has fallen from a school window—or did he jump? In response, and at his request, the pair retreat to their summer home, despite it being winter, which allows windswept space for a battle of wills and a journey to the heart of what’s troubling young Lars. For her part, Eggert enlivens the material as best she can, and Slak’s scenic touches sure do look nice, but the starting point of this film leaves little room for discovery.
In particular, the gap between metaphor and reality in Not A Word is non-existent, which creates a film that shows what it means, underlines it, and then goes on to reveal very little else. An audience may appreciate how straightforward it all turns out to be and that everything works out—unlike in TÁR—but that immediate comparison hits the wrong note and scales down from there.