James Norton, Daniel Lamont
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… manages to warm your heart in a way that is unexpected.
There’s the adage that the greatest tragedy for a parent is having to bury their own child. For window cleaner John (James Norton), that time has come much sooner than he was expecting in Nowhere Special, from director Umberto Pasolini (Still Life).
Already in poor health when we meet him, single father John’s focus is ensuring that his four-year-old son, Michael (Daniel Lamont) is cared for properly when he’s gone. This need comes at a cost though as, for John, there’s simply no family that could properly raise his son the way he wants.
At times, the film goes to show that John is right in his concerns, as he visits different foster families with his social worker. There’s the family whose patriarch tries to dissuade Michael’s love of dogs by recalling tales of being attacked by them as a postie. Perhaps the most egregious is the couple for whom Michael would be nothing more than a solvent to close the ever-widening gap in a loveless marriage.
However, Pasolini also goes to great pains to show that John is so determined to ensure everything is perfect for Michael that he doesn’t see the potential in others that the social workers do. So worried is John about Michael that he can’t even bring himself to tell his son that he is dying. When Michael stumbles across a dead bug in the park, a more mawkish film would use this as the moment for John to get his demise out in the open. Instead, the dutiful father skirts round the issue.
It is, of course, impossible for John to keep everything from his son and Nowhere Special knows this. That doesn’t stop you from wishing that John could have it all before he goes. It’s made clear from the start that there will be no third act deus ex machina to save John, so in a way – like the more fantastical Cargo directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke – the audience can only hope that time doesn’t run out too soon.
As the increasingly ailing father, Norton brings a tender yet stoic performance to the film. Despite becoming frustrated with what he sees as a failing system, he channels that energy into loving his son; reading him bedtime stories, playing in the park and deseeding grapes.
The only real example of John’s anger bubbling to the surface is in a deeply satisfying scene wherein he takes eggy revenge on an irate customer.
It would be churlish not acknowledge the young Lamont, who holds his own in the film’s heartbreaking scenes.
Nowhere Special, despite its narrative, still manages to warm your heart in a way that is unexpected. It is a bittersweet portrait of not just fatherhood, but of caring for our loved ones in general, and doing everything to ensure we are there for them in life and death.