Talented Belgian writer-director Fien Troch engages in a difficult dramatic game with her second film, “Unspoken,” and falls short of the mark. Intensely involved with the emotionally alienated and disoriented parents of a teenage girl who went missing four years earlier, Troch’s work is so bundled in elliptical moments and scenes without context that it will test — and break — most viewers’ patience. Certain invites to many prestige fests will be countered by general distrib indifference, despite the strong presences of Gallic stars Emmanuelle Devos and Bruno Todeschini.
“Unspoken” is far different from Troch’s superbly realized “Someone Else’s Happiness.” While her confident feature debut was shot and staged in powerful master and wide shots and ingeniously balanced between tragedy and comedy, the new pic is made in a relentless and eventually stultifying series of extreme, albeit often beautiful closeups, in scenes that frequently don’t seem linked in any revealing way.
The method is meant to express the psychological difficulties Lucas (Todeschini) and Grace (Devos) endure in the wake of daughter Lisa’s disappearance, the facts and basics of which aren’t revealed until well into the film. Until then, both parents seems to be in their own worlds — Grace loitering in a mall looking for any sign of Lisa, Lucas at work and unable to deal with news of his father’s brain tumor. The home phone regularly rings, with silence on the other end, which Lucas begins to imagine is coming from Lisa.
Life as a series of sudden events and the tragic loss of a child are the only connective thematic threads between the two Troch pics, but the unexpected situations here, such as an accident in a neighbor’s apartment or the appearance of son Benjamin (Joffrey Verbruggen) — whom the parents haven’t seen in years–amount to very little, and carry minimal resonance with the larger story.
Devos and Todeschini are asked to fill in the emotional gaps that Troch’s direction steadfastly denies the viewer. However, for fans of Devos, and especially her memorable face, “Unspoken” will feel like a walk through a gallery of hyper-close portraits of this consistently mesmerizing actress.
Troch’s regular lenser, Frank Van den Eeden, gives a master class on how to shoot in closeup, though nearly an entire film of such shooting becomes questionable. Ludo Troch’s editing adheres to the radical elliptical plan throughout.