Ode to Nothing arrives at Fantasia 2019 as one of its more elusive films, one that is beautiful in its search for acceptance, but difficult in its harsher and somewhat bleak outlook.
Sonya runs a struggling funeral home, finding herself in considerable debt. Accepting a body under mysterious circumstances, she finds herself drawn to it, as something about the corpse begins to speak to her.
The film is a beautiful encapsulation of life’s repetitions, taking big, deep breaths to show not the monotony of one’s loneliness, but rather the quiet peace it creates.
Sonya’s loneliness is personified around her, reminders of the past that are fleeting and gone by the time she turns to look. She’s drawn to speak to someone who will not speak back, but the returned silence speaks volumes.
Ode to Nothing is filled to the brim with melancholy; never depressingly so, but it allows its character’s anguish to come out in surprising ways.
Marietta Subong portrays Sonya with fiery frustration, managing sorrow and loneliness in one moment, anger and pain in the next. She’s wonderful in this, going from closed off and hard to read in the beginning to completely raw and open by film’s end.
The film frame is tight and creates a rigid amount of information to pass along its image. But despite that, Ode to Nothing manages to capture so much in its boxed display, using depth to show Sonya sitting at the windowsill while an event plays out behind her, or showing an intricate shot of Sonya heading to her bedroom while the mirror catches something. It’s all about the depth of the frame, rather than the tightness of it.
The direction is astonishing at points, some simple shots of looking through a window upon a dinner table allowing such a key picture into Sonya’s world as we wait for her to return into frame, the sounds being our guide to what goes on in her life.
There’s the use of repetition, as mentioned before, in shots of flowers, the clasps of a casket, and knickknacks on a table, where they once meant something else entirely under different circumstances. The film uses its own previous images as a passage of grief, showing them in a different light to change our reading of it.
It’s not an easy film, both in terms of its lackadaisical means of telling its story and through its difficult subject matter, but it allows a deeply personal tale to play out in an abstract way. It’s the peaks and valleys of success and failure in the shadow of death where the movie plays best.
Ode to Nothing perfectly captures the trauma of grief, and how difficult life can be in its grips. Director Dwein Baltazar crafts a memorable film, one with a haunting final image that is paired with final moments that are full of metaphor. It’s deeply rewarding, and proves to be one of Fantasia 2019’s best.