TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Slovenian-German writer-director Hanna Antonina Wojcik Slak’s Not A Word is a tense, elegant drama about the estrangement between a single mother and her teenage son. Years of quiet and deflection come to a head on a desolate island off the coast of France. Nina (Maren Eggert) is an intense conductor working with her orchestra for an upcoming performance. She’s completely absorbed in her work and doesn’t have time to devote to her teen son Lars (Jona Levin Nicolai).
“Nina’s reluctant to leave her work but does so out of guilt, though she spends more time trying to get cell reception…than talking or listening to her son.”
Lars is withdrawn and angry, and Nina only makes perfunctory attempts to draw him out. When he tries to talk, she seems distracted. They are both intensely frustrated, and Lars appears to be working through something more than the usual teen angst. Lars’ father, Alex (Mehdi Nebbou), tries to engage with him, but he is put off both by Lars and Nina when he reaches out. Then Lars has an accident that arouses suspicions that he may have been trying to hurt himself or, at the very least, was being recklessly self-destructive.
As part of his recovery, Lars asks his mom to take him to their vacation home on an island in a resort that is deserted during the off-season. Nina’s reluctant to leave her work but does so out of guilt, though she spends more time trying to get cell reception back to the mainland than talking or listening to her son. Her mind is on the orchestra and her desire to pull off a high-quality showpiece with Gustav Mahler’s technically challenging 5th Symphony. Lars’ behavior begins to spin out of control as a winter storm hits, and the tension between mother and son explodes with possibly deadly results. Secrets are revealed, and the question arises whether Lars and Nina will find a way to communicate with each other and be present for the other.