Review: Uncle / Onkel (2019)

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Set in a rural farmland in a provincial Danish town, Frelle Petersen’s Uncle is a placid story revolving around the rhythmic and monotonous lives as farmers in Denmark. Putting forward authenticity and closer look to the society the film attempts to portray, the director casts mostly local non-actor performers and local actors to give a real soul to the story. The pace flows leisurely, almost without any hard push to escalate, and the plot almost always over-indulges in specific moments during the daily routine of the farmers. The agricultural backdrops in the horizon looks wonderful, the sleepy town seems peaceful, but the routine sounds highly tedious; but, Petersen is eager to present the impression of living in rural Danish, his hometown, Jutland, that becomes the epicenter of the story.

Review Uncle / Onkel (2019)
Peter Hansen Tygesen and Jette Søndergaard in Uncle (2020)

Dialogues are scarce in Uncle; most of the time, the film puts the camera out at the field or at some mundane spots in the house just to give the perfect depiction of how this agricultural way of life shapes up. In the middle of the repetitive routine, there’s this frail, unnamed Uncle (Peter Hansen Tygesen, a real farmer in Jutland), who has been taken care of by his niece, Kris (Jette Søndergaard, an actress who happens to be Tygesen’s real life niece). From the moment he wakes up, enjoys the breakfast, works at the farm, feeds the cows, takes the much-needed break, watches news on the TV, until he returns to bed, Kris looks after and escorts him. There’s barely any time left for her to live her own life and find her place in the world outside the ranch. Situation changes when one of the cows suddenly falls ill. Kris’ repressed past is unraveled; and, at the same time, the future possibility is also unraveled, which brings her to the film’s untimely dilemma.

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Petersen, projecting the narrative from his own experience of growing up in a farm, often over-indulges in the menial works that Kris does every day. And, yet, the goal of his story is to explore the guilt that Kris has to bear for even thinking to chase her dream. Through a veterinarian character, Johannes (portrayed by a real-life vet, Ole Caspersen), Kris learns of the world outside the farm and finds someone to mirror herself into. From the interaction, we learn that she came into caring for uncle due to a series of tragedies that struck her not so long time ago. Uncle doesn’t explicitly put the protagonist into a blatant conflict; most of what’s conflicted inside of Kris are only implied. In exploring the guilt, however, the film doesn’t even stop the routine, making sure that the world doesn’t stop revolve when the character isn’t ready for what happens next.

At times, the plot gets mired into a romantic complication that might not be extremely necessary, even when it adds to the level of guilt the protagonist has to endure. In portraying the sophistication, Søndergaard emanates a rare sense of vulnerability that feels authentic. Between taking care of her ailing uncle and beginning to questioning her freedom, she internalizes the conflicting motivations and delivers the emotion adeptly as if the whole role is written solely for her. Tygesen, without any previous acting billing, brings the naturalistic atmosphere to the movie even when it means he barely acts. Uncle is a film that presents the beauty of tedious living; but, the beauty lies deep in the pile of routine that goes at whatever pace suits the sleepy town.

[imdb style=”transparent”]tt7523172[/imdb]

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