By Raphael Chipperfield | Drama
A father goes into hospital for an operation. Then family tensions begin to surface.

When Olivia’s father has to go into the hospital for an operation, she and her mother Margaret find themselves picking up the slack at the medical facility and home. Olivia seems tired and also dealing with disconnection from her husband, who still hasn’t joined her.

Amid their father’s hospital stay, Olivia’s brother Guy and his girlfriend Anna come to visit, fresh off Guy’s art exhibition. The scattered family gathers together, but long-simmering tensions — particularly between the siblings — come to the surface.

Directed by Raphael Chipperfield from a script co-written with Nina Berry, this keenly observed family drama — also produced by Ludovico Zanette — captures how the edifice of the family can cover up the fissures of long-standing resentments and unresolved issues. Yet issues make their presence known in times of challenge and chaos and transforming relationships in the process.

Like many family stories, much of the drama and tension exists on a more subtle, psychological level, tucked away underneath the easy everyday conversation and the business of daily life. The storytelling sets up the dynamics of Olivia’s family with care and deliberation, taking time to observe the psychological status quo of the group.

Olivia’s parents are affluent and somewhat bohemian, thanks to their mother Margaret. Olivia, we come to understand, had artistic ambitions but didn’t quite achieve them. However, Guy and his French girlfriend Anna have had more success pursuing the creative route — all while Olivia holds down the fort at home, quietly observing how her brother is supported and indulged.

The viewer has time to take in these dynamics, aided by a visual approach that also privileges the space and freedom to observe. Many of the shots and framings — lensed with a cool, luminous palette and lighting — tend towards stillness, and are wider in framing, as interested in the world around these characters and space between them as it is in the emotions experienced by them privately.

There are fewer close-ups than typical for this kind of story, but when we see them, we observe how Olivia, for example, often holds back her real thoughts, and the excellent dialogue also captures how the patterns of communication often require family members to hold back feelings to maintain its equilibrium.

Actors Olivia Vinall and Edward Ashley, along with veteran actor Tara Fitgerald as the matriarch, deftly delineate this complex dynamic with naturalness, and Vinall and Ashley also capture the rapport of siblings who were once close but have grown more distant over the years. As Olivia makes some discoveries, she finds herself unable to keep the family harmony any longer, opening Pandora’s box of painful reflection and realization.

“Salt” has a coolness and reserve that keeps this knotty emotional terrain from becoming too melodramatic, but a fundamental core of honesty and vulnerability pays off with a relatable, affecting ending. The two siblings, competing with one another for some time, become the conduit to help each other face their fears and limitations. We understand that they’re as lost and struggling as anyone else, and certainly, none of their problems are solved by the story’s conclusion. But they come to understand that they have one another, which may be the biggest gain of all.

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