In a bleak autumnal chill, three adult siblings return to their childhood home in the country, where the dusty silence is amplified by a long-term accumulation of things unsaid. The occasion of this family reunion is the recent death of their father, although Susan (Marianne Oldham) neither attended the funeral, nor has seen, or even been in touch with, brother James (Justin Salinger) and sister Jane (Lia Williams) for decades. The distance between these three is palpable. “The vandals are coming,” James tells Jane, convinced as he is that Susan is just there for the inheritance. “She’s had a hard life,” interjects Jane, without expanding. James does not know – perhaps does not want to know – the truth about the departed patriarch.
In Distance, a mid-length (30-minute) short film written and directed by Roberto Oliveri (Compassion, 2013), questions of legacy are key – not just the property that the “wonderful man and a wonderful father” has left behind, but the emotional scars that he has bequeathed to his two daughters, now themselves parents. Susan is back not to reclaim a share of the family fortune, but rather her lost childhood, as she gradually reconciles herself to a past from which she had long ago severed herself – and when she declares, “The house is falling apart”, she is describing a process that began long ago.
Distance is dominated by quiet. There is no musical score, apart from a piece (“dad’s favourite”) that James plays on the piano, unwittingly upsetting Susan with his attempts to conjure the dead. The siblings do speak, mostly in pairs, but even their conversation comes with a certain reticence. The result is a chamber piece – and a ghost story of sorts (certainly a return of the repressed) – marked by a subtlety born of understatement. All three performers eschew shrill histrionics for more fine-tuned nuance, allowing viewers to bridge for themselves the emotional distance between these differently damaged characters.