Nothing Personal is a drama that takes its time, and, while not impenetrable, is not too concerned with being easily understood. It is made up more of moods and subtle character moments than with clockwork plots and dashing leads. It is, nonetheless, an interesting and moving film.
A young Dutch woman, Anne (Lotte Verbeek), seems to have just painfully ended a relationship, and is backpacking her way across Ireland, searching for solitude or inner peace or something perhaps even more tenuous that she herself can't quite articulate. She's something of an odd person, and isn't above sneaking into someone's house, merely to turn their coffee cups the wrong way and sleep in their bed for an hour or two. And she doesn't mind eating out of trashcans and camping rough out in the open.
She happens to come across Martin (Stephen Rea) a widower who lives by himself in a remote house on the coast. He offers her a job helping around the house, which she reluctantly accepts, with many fits and starts. She is very confrontational and standoffish at first, refusing to eat inside with Martin, preferring to sit on the bench by the back door. She even threatens to walk out if he asks her anything approaching a personal question. She's doing her best to push Martin and everyone else far away. It takes a long time, and lots of patience on Martin's part, but Anne does eventually begin to thaw. A gift of an opera tape, Martin's penchant for bursting in to song whenever he breaks a deal, and even the simple but fulfilling labor around the house and grounds, all of these things serve to draw the pair together. These two very different people slowly begin to understand each other.
Nothing Personal is not what one would exactly describe as a romantic film. It's sweet at times, and quite affirming of romantic love, in a sort of sidelong fashion. It's perhaps an almost romance, and certainly does not fall into any of the tropes or clichés of the romance genre. This is much too sophisticated a film to descend to that level, and every time you think it is slipping into maudlin or the well worn pathways of romance, it moves in a quite different direction. Director Urszula Antoniak has a very sure hand, and a clear idea of where she is going and what she wants to say. The film focuses mainly on Anne, and we are able to tease out more and more of her story and character as things progress. Not a line of dialogue is dedicated to a straightforward narrative of her life or biography, but the audience comes to know her by her interactions with Martin, her foibles, and even the expression on her face.
Martin is not a less important character, but his function is more that of a foil, someone for Anne to interact with. Luckily, both Stephen Rea and Lotte Verbeek are absolutely outstanding in their roles, infusing these people with real life and subtlety. Since this is a character driven piece, the performances are essential, and one couldn't ask for a more nuanced or passionate pair than this. Each is assured and well honed on their own, and magnificent when they are on screen together. The characters are sharply written, and not above dialogue that almost (but not quite) approaches the catch phrase, for Martin particularly. "Talent knows when to stop," he is fond of saying, which also serves as something of a theme for his character. These are not cardboard cutouts or ciphers, but actual human beings we can relate to.
There's not much to the plot, and it is a chore (a pleasant one) to understand the main character, but the film is strong nonetheless. Nothing Personal is deliberately paced (though not a long film at only 85 minutes) and challenging, but very much worth the effort. The fine performances are enjoyable to watch and insight into the human condition is profound. Highly recommended.