The synopsis provided for Life According to Nino is as follows:
Life is good for Nino van Doorn (8). He has a terrific brother Lucas (14), wise father Bruno and an angel of a mother, Marla. When Marla dies, Bruno can’t cope with her death. Also the values like order, responsibility, love and care they represented. The two brothers create their own world. But soon the anarchistic world is threatened by the outside world. The two brothers are prepared to fool the system but what happens is that they really become a family again.
Life According to Nino takes a potentially dour story and infuses it with some humor, vitality and quite a bit of heart to make it a fully satisfying and not at all run-of-the-mill family story.
Recently Paddington got some much deserved praise for many things but especially for underplaying the talking bear angle. In this film Nino, after a year has passed since his mother’s death, starts to hear what animals are sating, especially his rabbit Bobby. Hearing animals is not the largest focal point of this film, indicative of handling of family films overseas, especially in Benelux. What this allows is the film to keep its focus where it most needs to be (reunification of the family) and allows that aspect of the film play out naturally; for a child’s imagination is fertile and talking to friends real or imagined will happen.
This aspect of the film is buoyed by the fact that the dialogue and and voice talent assembled to voice the animals is great. It keeps that aspect of the film as light as it should be and allows it to balance the more serious moments the film has to offer.
Another interesting aspect of the film is that in social services getting involved at the insistence of some helicopter parent neighbors the trio start become very self-conscious as part of their examination involves the installation of surveillance cameras in their house. They act the part of a proper family and feel extraordinarily awkward. Hilarity ensues but then they eventually do figure out how to function again and it is useful in two ways.
Koen De Graeve is an actor who I’ve recently become quite familiar with after not having consciously seen him prior. With a breakout Best Actor nomination for Time of My Life in 2013, then that was followed up with a film in a similar vain in In the Heart. Here he completes a kind of “Death Trilogy” with his oddest character yet. It’s a very funny portrayal yet accurately depressed an disengaged yet also believable when he switches back on.
Most of the film does rest with a young actor virtually debuting, Rohan Timmermans. The only credit to his name prior to this is as a stand-in, but you’d never know it. He very naturally carries himself, and takes on scenes where he’s talking to animals and not getting anything back, and also readily delivers realistic dialogue.
Arend Bouwmeester not only conveys well a lost youth prone to bouts of hooliganism but also manages to flip the switch and be a caring, sensitive brother. He also partakes in an interesting rather visual subplot that does factor in well.
Life According to Nino is a brisk, enjoyable funny film that manages to smoothly balance elements and tones that would seem too disparate when enumerated in a list, but blend well together. It’s enjoyable and funny and refuses to be overly conformist. Two production companies that have made very enjoyable family fare (Family Affair and Waterland) produced the film and Attraction Distribution handles it in North America, if you get a chance to see it you definitely should.