Uncertain Terms (Nathan Silver, 2014)
Pregnancy is frequently romanticised within cinema and television as a nigh-on celestial state, the apotheosis of every Real Woman’s existence – a beatific reverie where one wears diaphanous gowns and smiles serenely as Gaia flows through you, waiting for The Miracle To Come. In reality, pregnancy entails a woman’s body being co-opted by a parasite that plays havoc with your hormones, your physicality, and your mind – all as a precursor to a much more demanding life-long task. Uncertain Terms, the new film by director Nathan Silver (Exit Elena) recognises this truth, representing impending motherhood with unsentimental clarity, never proselytising or moralising. It’s a refreshing corrective to a subject woefully mishandled by cinema.
At a rural half-way house in the Hudson Valley a group of heavily pregnant unwed teenaged girls take refuge and prepare for respective upcoming arrivals. Nina (India Menuez) squabbles with her ne’er do well unemployed boyfriend, both panicked at the prospect of their unknown future. She and the other girls chat about why they’re there, how people reacted, supporting one another where family and lovers have failed.
Into this bucolic refuge arrives Robbie, a 37 year old trying to escape and forget his troubled marriage. He and Nina form a ready bond, even as he catches the attention of other girls, creating ripples of internecine tension.
Semi-improvised and drawing heavily on the experiences of Nathan Silver’s mother, Cindy, herself once a pregnant teen (she appears in the film as the woman who runs the refuge), Uncertain Terms feels achingly real. Dialogue rings true and performances are lived-in, free from any artifice or pretence. While many of the girl’s situations are daunting – a heart-breaking monologue sees one teen explain that she fell pregnant while sleeping with someone in the hopes of arousing an ex-boyfriend’s jealousy – their collegiality, high spirits, and kindness stops the movie short from depicting them as pitiable. These are real people, not cliched tragedies to be tutted over.
The house is a microcosm through which Silver explores notions of propriety, patriarchy, love as control, and love as compromise. Although a ‘small,’ personal, film, it depicts how utterly seismic the change confronting these girls is. Resonant and beautiful.
There’s a great interview with the director Nathan Silver available here.