In writer/director Martin Radich’s Norfolk, screening in the Hivos Tiger Awards Competition, a nameless man (Denis Menochet) – a mercenary – lives an almost solitary life in a run-down farm house in the titular region. Aside from his son (played by Barry Keoghan), the only contact he welcomes from the world beyond is through six televisions, arranged on chairs, transmitting the news and entertainment of the day. An apparently self-imposed isolation is explained by way of a dream he describes to his son, the meaning of which seems to be: if we try to help each other, we will hate each other in the end.
Norfolk’s pessimistic outlook is emphasised by an aesthetic that imbues the English countryside with dread. Using a palette of colours all on the spectrum of gloom and dirt – ochre, brown, impenetrably dark blue – Radich and cinematographer Tim Siddel, present us with a locale that’s neither wholly past nor present. This is a place where loss hangs in the air, the characters seeming to carry their ghosts with them as though hope is a luxury they can’t afford. Having worked extensively as a cinematographer, Radich admits he was perhaps unusually particular about finding the right person to achieve his vision of a timeless Norfolk; ‘’I wanted to find someone who wasn’t part of that London advertising aesthetic… someone who had the same philosophical outlook as me.’’ On working with Siddel, Radich describes it as ‘’a joy’’, the pair utilising in-camera techniques for ethereal soft focus, and a ‘’children’s camera’’ to allow for spontaneity on set. Melding different shooting formats was important in achieving the right texture for the film, says Radich; ‘’If you’re going to be committed to an idea, just commit.’’
At the centre of Norfolk is Menochet’s striking performance as the mercenary tasked with one more kill that will threaten his son’s future happiness. Whilst writing the screenplay, Radich imagined a ritual enacted by the character before he commences his deadly missions. Whilst shooting, the director allowed Menochet to interpret these sequences in whatever way he felt; ‘’we did no rehearsals at all, he just did what he did and it was very, very powerful.’’ Without discussing with Radich the connection he would draw upon for the performance, Menochet’s gesture’s in the resulting scenes evoke a deep, deep rage that the director feels are; ‘’an indication of how dedicated he was to the character.’’
In Norfolk the deadly serious tone is broken by moments of odd humour in the performances that play with the timelessness of the piece as a whole. Despite the mercenary’s economical attitude to communication, punctuated by allegorical lessons and statements about moral relativity, his gravitas is countered by a logical self-awareness on the part of his son, and Keoghan delivers his lines with a straightforward approach that re-situates the action in the present. Radich says this incongruity was essential for the film; ‘’the intention was always to have a bit of humour in this dark place.’’
Originally published in the Daily Tiger, 24 January 2015. Republished with permission from International Film Festival Rotterdam.