Melancholic to a fault, Nobody Has to Know gives us a story that is morally wrong, but in the deep, dark recesses of our minds, we understand the motive. Tim Mielants and Bouli Lanners’s film soon becomes a film about identity. This gentle, touching film affects you far more than you’d expect.
Phil (Bouli Lanners) is a middle-aged farmhand working on a remote part of the Isle of Lewis. When he suffers amnesia following a stroke, a lonely local woman, Millie (Michelle Fairley), helps him acclimatise back to his life and claims they were once in a secret relationship before his accident. This is a fragile lie that Millie must protect to keep their burgeoning romance alive, but at what cost?
Bouli Lanners and Stéphane Malandrin give themselves quite the challenge with Nobody Has to Know, how exactly do you write a story where you want to feel for the person deceiving another in such a manner? Well, they manage it by making their film as low-key as possible, with the drama staying at a tempered level. This isn’t a knock, by the way; it is almost refreshing to have a film that feels as if its intended audience is a bit older and wiser about the situation. These are characters in the second half of their lives, and sometimes, decisions are made to stave off the one thing we all fear in our lives: being alone.
Phil is beginning to feel isolated on this small island due to how his own boss and some of the community think about him as an immigrant (even though he is only from Belgium). With Millie, she has seemingly grown up on the island her whole life and solitude is all she really knows. So, when the opportunity comes for her to grasp onto a real chance at something, we can see they both need. Can we really begrudge her for taking that chance? Of course, it is morally iffy, but you understand it. If this was set in a city with younger characters, the reaction would be different to the story. Still, here on the Isle of Lewis, Nobody Has to Know works.
The Isle of Lewis feels like its own character in Nobody Has to Know. Frank van den Eeden has shot it magnificently, with some gorgeous single shots of characters staring off into the sea from the top of the cliffs. The fact that the location is on the island is what makes the film as interesting as it is. In such scenarios, people would move on, either to a nearby town or far away. Here, with this group of people, especially those like Millie, they are almost stuck on the island. Unable to leave the comfort of what they know, in the end, they stare off at what could have been in another life.
Lanners and Fairley have a wonderful chemistry together, which feeds into the success of the film; you almost buy what Millie is saying about their previous relationship. When they are near each other, it all feels so right, which is why Phil falls into Millie’s lies so quickly. If it feels right, isn’t it right? Fairley especially stands out as the anxiety-ridden restricted Millie. A woman who has been shouted down her whole life wallows in her situation; she sees her chance and takes it. As said, you can barely begrudge her for it. That’s how good her performance and Lanners’ performances are. Their strengths as actors are showcased here. We want them both happy and with that great chemistry, the two have, you have no doubt their characters will be like magnets to one another.
As the film moves on to be about not only finding your own identity again but finding your footing in the place where you live, Nobody Has to Know becomes all the more tender and sensitive. We see two characters who have a clear attraction to one another and can clearly see how they help each other find themselves on the island. Removing the tags that they were wrongly labelled with previously. That is kind of the point when you find your person. You begin anew, forging a new identity. You worry less about those outside of your bubble, and the pent-up anger or frustration of being alone dissipates as there is now a welcoming warmth beside you.
Nobody Has to Know is well worth your time and gives you something to lightly ponder.
Nobody has to know is out now in cinemas, for more information click here.
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