A father bounces his child of three on his lap in bed.
In his mind’s eye, he has a different haircut, is fur clad like a Norseman of old, rowing the blond child to a rocky, Dark Ages shore.
It’s a fantasy world of their own creation, a quest he and the child are making up as they go along — him providing the muscle, the kid, babbling and inventing in Aussie-accented English, naming things, interacting with a fairy and learning the rules.
“If we see goblins?”
It takes a while to determine the beautiful, long-haired child is a boy, that his name is Bodhi.
We meet his mother at about the time we notice that some of Dad’s story game play is happening in a hospital bed.
Father and son are weaving a long-form fantasy around that which we don’t speak about, or that which few of us are comfortable talking about with our children — death.
“But I don’t LIKE games about being dead!”
Writer, director and star Mark Webber has been in films since the late ’90s (“Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,””Laggies,” “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot”). When he writes and directs his own work (“Flesh and Blood”), he tends to tell stories about family WITH family.
“The Place of No Words” has Webber and wife Teresa Palmer (“Lights Out,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” “Point Break”) playing a married couple entertaining and trying to figure out a way to explain “Daddy’s sick” to their little boy, Bodhi Palmer.
It’s a somber, reflective and magically set fantasy in the vein of “Where the Wild Things Are,” with symbolic monsters to be faced and bested, befriended or at least accepted. But the real magic of the story might be the utterly natural way this family acts like a family, with a precocious, unaffected and engaging child the glue that holds it all together.
They filmed this indie jewel in Wales in between seasons of Mom’s SkyTV series, “A Discovery of Witches.”
Mom looks haunted, gaunt at times. “It’s been so heavy around here,” she confides to a friend. But she’s got to keep up bubbly appearances even as her husband Mark has reached “a place of acceptance.”
The film has literary allusions and a visual tone that beautifully matches an overcast “real” world with the rocky hills and mountains and moss-covered trees of father-and-son’s place of escape.
It’s not a deep treatment of a serious subject. But it is an affecting one, made more so by the players groping and grasping at emotions that strike a balance between parental sheltering of a child, protecting him from ugly reality, and the need to gently remove that shelter at just the right moment.
You have to be in the mood for it, but “The Place of No Words” is a touching, sweet and intimate fantasy unlike most any film you’ve seen, save for its much more expensive and less moving antecedent, “Where the Wild Things Are.”
MPAA Rating: unrated, some fantasy violence
Cast: Mark Webber, Bodhi Palmer, Teresa Palmer
Credits: Written and directed by Mark Webber. A Gravitas release.
Running time: 1:35