Student Critics' Reviews: Uncertain Terms
This year, the Student Critics Jury at Edinburgh International Film Festival made their picks of the Fest. Today our coverage continues with Ross Hamilton's review of Uncertain Terms.
From its very first scene, where a young girl is revealed in profile as pregnant following a lengthy tracking shot, Uncertain Terms, the new film from American independent director Nathan Silver, confounds expectations.
What is billed as a love story between Robbie (David Dahlbom) and Nina (India Menuez) finds a pair of characters dominated by doubt at a critical point in their lives. The latter has achieved an uneasy state of stability while living at a halfway house for pregnant teenagers, but the arrival of 30-year-old Robbie as a handyman provides the impetus for an interrogation and disruption of both characters’ hopes and values.
Though flecked with comic moments, the film refuses to allow its cast any release from their respective difficulties. These trials, both physical and emotional, are perpetually inscribed on the bodies of the girls at the house, and in the case of Robbie they are distilled into the constant, anxious buzzing of a phone – a wonderfully economical method of manifesting the encroaching presence of his unfaithful wife.
A more obvious film might focus on pathos above all else, but Robbie’s quietly covetous glances at the teenage Nina are troubling; all the more so because of Dahlbom, whose restrained performance provides a continually conflicted picture of mingled concern, uncertainty and desire. His readiness to devote himself to her so fully is startling, though believable within the context of Uncertain Terms’ strangely detached setting, but ultimately the film’s ambivalence towards the relationship is its most compelling feature, and the perfectly pitched final moment its most enthralling scene.
– Ross Hamilton