'In Your Name' ('In jouw naam'): Turin Review
Lotte Verbeek ("The Borgias") and Barry Atsma ("Hector and the Search for Happiness") play a couple torn apart by grief in Marco van Geffen's Dutch domestic drama
Children who’ve lost their parents are called orphans but there’s no word for parents who’ve lost their children because that’s not in the natural order of things. The Dutch domestic drama In Your Name (In jouw naam) takes this idea one step further, making words almost entirely absent in this story of a young and successful couple in the suburbs who stop communicating after the unexpected death of their firstborn. This is screenwriter-turned-director Marco van Geffen’s second film in his Drama of the Happy Family-trilogy after Among Us, which played Locarno and Toronto in 2011. The otherwise unconnected follow-up has been making a more modest tour of the festival circuit with stops including the recent Turin Film Festival.
Ton (Barry Atsma) and Els (Lotte Verbeek) are an apparently happy couple looking forward to the arrival of what should be the proof and coronation of their shared love and joy: their first child. But from the start, something seems ever so slightly amiss, as the otherwise model bourgeois twosome can’t seem to decide on what to name the child, even in the first days after her birth. With the possible exception of suggesting it in the film’s title, screenwriter Jolein Laarman's and the director’s somber and austere screenplay, thankfully never try to give this unusual turn of events too much importance, making it more of a signpost for more significant troubles ahead than an overly symbolic choice.
As the dour drama develops, the now ex-parents run the risk of becoming ex-lovers as well, with fewer and fewer words exchanged between them and the hard cuts of editor Peter Alderliesten’s gaining in prominence, suggesting how couplehood for them has gone from shared moments to one giant ellipsis in which their life seems to continue around them but without them.
To deal with their loss, Els wants to have another child but Ton feels differently. It could be argued that Ton might feel like a new child would be negating the love he felt for his now-dead daughter by simply replacing her with a new one and pretending nothing has happened. But the major handicap of In Your Name is that, since the characters speak less and less to each other, it’s hard to really know what they are thinking. The result of their actions is clear but we can only guess about the causes.
A similar error of judgment has been made about the story’s entirely linear chronology, which hides a closing-reel twist that feels not arbitrary but only very vaguely motivated. If this shocking revelation had been placed upfront, at least it would have signaled to audiences that it needs to pay minute attention to this character to make the pieces of the psychological puzzle fit. The fact that neither of the protagonists falls back on (perhaps very black) humor as a potential way of dealing with things also doesn't help lighten the film's generally dour mood (and is also somewhat surprising given that it's co-produced by Flemish writer-producer Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, who even in his darkest projects always manages to inject some humor and a certain lightness).
The pale-skinned but radiant redhead Verbeek (The Borgias, The Fault in Our Stars), who looks more than ever like a Dutch Jessica Chastain, plays Els like a woman who not only thinks keeping up appearances is important but might actually be saved by this instinct (this is one of the rare movies in which a mourning mother’s always perfect lip gloss makes perfect sense). The charismatic Atsma (Love Life, Accused) can’t be faulted either and both totally sell the couple’s initial bourgeois bliss and clearly try to convey information non-verbally later. But given the way the plot’s developed and structured, that’s simply not enough.
Returning cinematographer Ton Peters again makes the suburban neighborhood that the characters populate seem unwelcoming and drab, especially in a neat, nighttime tracking shot through a street like so many others. Absent a lot of meaningful dialogue, the excellent sound design also takes on a greater prominence.
Production companies: Lemming Film, A Private View, Kino Elektron
Cast: Barry Atsma, Lotte Verbeek, Ad van Kempen, Leny Breederveld, Rene Retel
Director: Marco van Geffen
Screenplay: Jolein Laarman, Marco van Geffen
Producers: Leontine Petit, Derk-Jan Warrink, Joost de Vries
Co-producers: Janja Kralj, Dries Phlypo, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem
Director of photography: Ton Peters
Production designer: Minka Mooren
Costume designer: Monica Petit
Editor: Peter Alderliesten
No rating, 81 minutes