Janna and her brother Loek have been on their own since their parents have died. Since then, she takes care of the family farm and her sibling, who is disabled.
But life is hard for Janna, who is often left alone. She has to watch her friends move forward, hitting the milestones of adult life. But Janna seems stuck, with no one to talk to and no one to share the emotional toll. She slowly reaches a breaking point, putting her at a crossroads between duty and desire.
Subtlety is initially the main characteristic of writer-director Liza Koifman’s dramatic short. Though often lovely to watch, with a finely tuned eye for small, crystalline detail, it exists in a muted, quiet register, which seems to reflect both the main character and her situation in life. Yet this earthy, almost bucolic setting belies the turmoil underneath, born of a situation of almost crushing obligation intertwined with love.
The film has a patient, observant lens, especially for the details on how Janna cared for Loek every day, from brushing his teeth and feeding him to the food that ends up on her shirt. It captures Janna at work on the farm, but even when that is done, her work still doesn’t end, since she needs to care for Loek, who can’t do many basic skills by himself. There is a documentary quality to the images, with a certain naturalistic clarity, and the editing and rhythms often let the images breathe and acquire a poetic quality and resonance as a result.
The writing, too, remains understated and spends the first half of the film carefully building Janna’s world and situation with painstaking care. An intelligent, reserved distance characterizes this portion of the film, creating a “wide lens” of an insular world — not without its love, but devoid of liveliness and energy. Janna floats in and out of his landscape, stoic and matter-of-fact about fulfilling her duties to home and family.
Koifman — who plays Janna as well as directs — plays her with a calm matter-of-factness that initial viewing might mistake as peace and acceptance. She possesses supreme patience with Loek and a seemingly serene competence with running the farm. But halfway through the story, she comes into focus, revealing this surface is much more fragile than it seems.
In a touching scene where the siblings visit their mother’s grave, Janna breaks down, revealing the agony she’s in, and watching her curl up on the grave as if waiting to be cuddled is heartbreaking. As a character, she remains in focus for the second half of the film, and the fragility she reveals colors the rest of the events, culminating in a final heartbreaking sequence that is quietly wrenching for this small family, and for viewers.
“Nest” retains its commitment to subtlety from beginning to end, an emotional coloring that asks for both patience and investment from viewers at the beginning. But this subtlety also gives its final scenes — which, in the hands of a less skilled filmmaker, would seem melodramatic — a quiet pathos and power all the more compelling in its understatement.
It also puts the spotlight on actor Leonard van Herwijnen’s remarkable performance as Loek, who, despite his disability, fully begins to understand just what has happened to him. The arc he travels in the final scene is of a short duration in terms of time — but it’s an immense descent in emotion, carrying along invested viewers with him into a wilderness of confusion and ultimately devastation.