San Sebastian Film Festival, Zalbetegi New Directors

Belgian writer-director Fien Troch ("Someone Else's Happpiness") sensitively imagines the pain and anguish experienced by the parents of a missing child. "Unspoken" is an apt title in two ways: it mirrors the dangerous wall of silence that falls between the parents of a missing girl, and the film itself refuses to speak up about what is going on between them. In the end, however, this overly delicate approach does not pan out, leaving the audience more puzzled and deadened to the drama than partaking in the protags' angst. Despite the presence of two haunting thesps, Emmanuelle Devos and Bruno Todeschini, film is unlikely to wander far from festival venues.

Lucas (Todeschini) is a sad-eyed tax inspector; Grace (Devos) is his beautiful, melancholy wife. They go about their daily tasks carrying an unspoken burden, which only becomes clear some way into the film: their daughter Lisa disappeared four years ago, and has never been heard from since.

Both parents have their eccentricities, but Lucas begins to show signs of real madness when he starts following young girls around and having sex with under-age prostitutes. Unable to focus on his family's current problems or even to go on working, he vanishes into thin air, while Grace tries to cover up for him.

Not wanting to fall into the cliches of a police procedural, Troch opts for a psychological study of grief and loss, describing the obsessive behavior of people under prolonged stress. This could have been a gripping story a la Michel Haneke, had the scenes not been so maddeningly unconnected and lacking narrative drive. Drained of tension, the film limps on unhappily from problem to problem, until it reaches its low-key conclusion.

Devos communicates a bewitching sense of depth as the mother, who says so little and understands so much about her husband, while Todeschini offers a touching portrait of a man teetering on the edge. The impeccable tech work, lead by Frank Van Der Eeden's brooding lighting and extreme close-ups of the protagonists, creates a downbeat, inward-looking mood.

Production company: Prime Time, Versus Production, Motel Films
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Bruno Todeschini.
Director: Fien Troch.
Screenwriter: Fien Troch.
Producer: Antonino Lombardo.
Co-producers: Jeroen Beker, Frans Van Gestel, Jacques-Henri Bronckart.
Director of photography: Frank Van Der Eeden.
Production designer: Francois Lefebvre.
Music: Peter Van Laerhoven.
Editor: Ludo Troch.
Costumes: Elise Ancion.
Sales Agent: The Works International, London
97 minutes.