Fantastic Fest Review: You Don’t Know NOBADI

But you should definitely change that.

See Nobadi. I don’t know when it’s coming out. I don’t even know if it’s coming out. It’s from Austria so maybe it’s playing there. Buy a plane ticket and find out. Whatever it takes. I hope you don’t die but if you die and they ask you in Heaven which family member or historical figure you’d like to see first, ask instead of they have a Nobadi screener.

I can’t tell you why it’s so important you see Nobadi. This is one of those films where it’s best not to know. And even when I tried to explain to a friend with spoilers, I did a poor job and made the movie sound lame. You just have to see it for yourself.

The film focuses on an old man whose dog has just died. He needs to bury it but he’s old and can’t do it alone. Happenstance puts him in the path of a young immigrant willing to do just about anything for money. After some adorable negotiation on a price, the two come to an agreement and the kid starts digging.

The old man is irascible, at times straight up mean. But despite his gruff front, his heart clearly aches for his departed dog and he shows remorse when he knows he’s gone too far. He also comes from an older, tougher generation, so his cutting barbs and barely contained temper seem borderline typical. He’s just a grumpy-ass old man. He’s lonely and being somewhat mean is just one way of showing his new friend affection.

The old man and the boy do seem to bond over the course of their afternoon together. The boy has a limp, and once the old man comes to realize the extent of the injury plaguing his foot, he decides to do whatever it takes to help his new pal.

I can take this no further. The thing about Nobadi is up to this point, it has the feel of a rather typical drama, the kind of thing a country might put up for a foreign-language Academy Award. We’ve seen movies like this plenty of times before, and while watching Nobadi, it’s easy to think “oh, this is pleasant enough; I can see why they make so many of these movies.”

Nobadi doesn’t suddenly change into a totally different film. It doesn’t play tricks on the audience to shock them halfway through. The audience plays this trick on itself. Our desire for stories like what Nobadi appears to offer blinds us to the actual story at play here. It’s just that at a certain point, that misunderstanding becomes extremely apparent. And then a sequence happens that might make you throw up.

Nobadi is extremely well made, centered around two delightful performances. The cinematography, writing, set design… everything is top notch. But whoever was in charge of its gore, that’s the person who deserves the highest praise here. Nobadi made me squirm more than any recent film I can remember, which is the last thing I expected to say about another “bitter old man has his heart changed by an earnest young immigrant” movie.

So learn the title. Keep it in your mind. Maybe it’ll pop up one day as a viewing option. If it does, grab a barf bag and get ready for one of the year’s best films. You won’t regret it.