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Mark Webber The Place of No Words Review


The Place of No Words | Review

The Place of No Words | Review

Words of a Feather: Webber Finds Catharsis Through Fantasy in Mournful Drama

Mark Webber The Place of No Words ReviewThe exploration of death and grief through the eyes of a child lends itself either to heavy handed schmaltz or metaphorical fantasy, wherein filmmakers attempt catharsis through the universality of melodrama or the journey of acceptance through heightened escapism. Actor turned director Mark Webber manages his own idiosyncratic, often elegiac attempt at the latter with his fifth directorial effort The Place of No Words. Singularly formatted, though inescapably familiar, the impending death of a father through the magical fantasy of his three-year-old son, Webber has concocted a visual feast tethered inextricably to an overshadowing inevitability.

A father (Webber) and his son Bodhi (Bodhi Palmer, Webber’s own son, making his screen debut) are off on an epic journey across a treacherous, wintry terrain. Harsh elements and fantastical creatures cross their path as the child asks his father searching, hypothetical questions, eventually coming to a scenario about his father dying. The man shirks away from this line of questioning, and the film switches to the sanitized, contemporary climes of Bodhi’s life with his father and mother (Theresa Palmer, Webber’s real-life wife). It’s clear, through a series of hushed conversations and visits to the hospital, dad is suffering from a chronic illness, and Bodhi’s magical interludes are his way of escaping to a playful, secure realm where conversations with dad metaphorically prepare him for his eventual absence.

The Place of No Words plays like the adult-minded version of Where the Wild Things Are (2009), littered with fantastical creatures reminiscent of Spike Jonze or even something from the land of Jim Henson. A witch with powers over oogy critters in the ground or the grotesque but kindly Grumblers are delicious touches which aid Webber’s medieval garb, wandering a chilly countryside like some lost The Game of Thrones character.

Beautifully lensed by Patrice Lucien Cochet (who has served as DP on Webber’s past four films), Webber serves as his own editor in this stylized take which volleys between the magic conjured by the eyes of Bodhi vs. the despairing reality of his parents. The easygoing and authentic vibes are no doubt assisted by the real-life chemistry of Webber, wife Teresa Palmer and their son Bodhi Palmer, with conversations about the realities and acceptance of death no doubt providing them with a personal catharsis which resonates well beyond their creative endeavor together. As such, Webber’s latest venture feels like a fantasy-minded John Cassavetes in his use of his own family as cinematic conduits.

It’s a difficult balance, but The Place of No Words hovers in the nexus of full-blown escapism like The Princess Bride (1987) and the sterling indie showcase of something like Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), or even a bit of the spare wonder of a fantasy-inclined Malick. But Webber steers clear from grandiose, emotional outbursts and, perhaps most surprisingly, doesn’t allow the dark reality of this parallel world to fade behind its striking visual escapism.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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