Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek brings character and screen appeal to a tricky, underwritten role.

Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek brings character and screen appeal to a tricky, underwritten role in “Nothing Personal,” the first theatrical feature by Polish-born writer-director Urszula Antoniak. Low-budget two-hander between a mysterious foreign woman and a lonely widower in the deserted landscape of Connemara, Ireland, holds interest more through the screen chemistry of Verbeek and co-lead Stephen Rea than through its self-consciously manipulative script. Most of the pic’s life will be at fests and on the tube, but Antoniak looks like a name to watch.

With no explanation, an unnamed young woman (Verbeek, who copped the actress gong at Locarno) is shown hitchhiking through Ireland, living rough and scavenging in trashcans for food. She aggressively rebuffs all offers of help, and jumps from a truck when she imagines the driver is about to molest her.

Coming across a small, isolated cottage on a promontory in a lake, she makes herself at home. When the owner, Martin (Rea), finds her, he offers her food in exchange for gardening work. She accepts the deal, but won’t answer any questions or divulge her name.

Pic settles down into an offbeat, slow-burning ersatz love story, as the woman gradually mellows and finally moves into the house. He needs company, she craves isolation; he’s quietly firm, she’s willfully contrary. They find common ground, and her suspicion morphs into a wary trust.

Though some of the woman’s backgroundis given in the film’s official synopsis, none appears in the finished movie, which makes it hard for the viewer to empathize, especially in the early stages, with her antisocial behavior. Largely thanks to Verbeek’s perf, full of physical grace notes and small details, she manages to involve the audience, even though her character is more a movie creation than one based in real psychology.

Rea, largely giving his usual mumbling Oirish perf, proves a selfless support, and provides an anchor to the movie. Other roles are just bits.

Technical package is modest, but Daniel Bouquet’s lensing captures the austere beauty of western Ireland in all its shifting, sunny-and-rainy moods. Intertitles (“Loneliness,” “The End of a Relationship,” etc.) are unnecessary and distracting.

Nothing Personal

Netherlands

Production

A Rinkel Film & TV production, in association with VPRO, Fastnet Films, Family Affair Films. Produced by Edwin van Meurs, Reinier Stein. Directed, written by Urszula Antoniak.

Crew

Camera (color), Daniel Bouquet; editor, Nathalie Alonso Casale; music, Ethan Rose; art director, Jane English; sound (Dolby Digital), Victor Horstink; assistant director, Charlie Endean. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 14, 2009. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Lotte Verbeek, Stephen Rea, Tom Charlfa, Ann Marie Horan, Fintan Halpenny, Sean McRonnel, Paul Ronan. (English, Gaelic, Dutch dialogue)

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