From the recent Berlin Film Festival comes this overwhelmingly sad tale of a closeted gay Dutch farmer whose intensely private and repressed life seems to be heading towards either the point of no-return or a major turning point. Helmer is 55 years old and when he is not attending to the few cattle and sheep he tends on this small isolated farm, he is looking after his aged father whose health is rapidly diminishing. Both are men of few words and it is very clear that even though they are dependent on each other, they can barely tolerate each other’s company. In this slow pot-boiler of a story we only learn towards the very end, why the father and son loathe each other.
The middle-aged dairy truck driver who comes to collect the milk daily, is equally shy as Helmer, although he is obviously keen on the farmer. There is the definite possibility that Helmer feels a similar attraction but as he has been starved of any human contact for so long, he cannot respond to either the driver, or even to the female neighbor who offers to help care for his father. So the Driver announces he is quitting his job and leaving the area to go live with his sister.
When Helmer employs Henk an 18 year old to be a live-in farmhand, the young man turns out to be equally as lonely as him. He reaches out to Helmer one night in desperation, but he of course has no idea of how to even start to comfort the youth, so the lad soon leaves.
Despite it’s slow pace and the unrelenting sadness of Helmer’s solitude, there is something remarkable compelling in this tale of repression that ensures you are vested in its outcome. As his father fades rapidly, Helmer takes to re-decorating the Farmhouse for the first time in years. It is the first visible sign that he actually has any hope for his future when he will be totally alone. And then, amongst the mourners at his father’s funeral, he spots the Dairy Driver who has returned to do more than just pay his respects.
The relief you feel as the movie ends is quickly shattered when you see from the credits that the movie is dedicated to the memory of the late Jeroen Willems who had played Helmer so superbly. It is a beautiful performance and a wonderful tribute to a remarkable actor.