Erwin (Erwin Van Cotthem) is a simple man with hints of complexities that could be nothing more than illusions. He spends much of his time, blank-faced, either completely immersed or deadened playing a Viking computer game while occasionally squeezing in some recreational rugby and Old Speckled Hen consumption. Much of his family, with his wife and two sons, could be perceived as distractions to the aforementioned activities and he treats them accordingly, as an afterthought. He only appears to be present in one world – his hobby world, his world of leisurely pursuits.
This is the man at the center of Canadian writer/director Kazik Radwanski’s film, How Heavy This Hammer.
Erwin is not only the focus but he seems to overwhelm the frame at every turn; the repertoire of his three expressions always extending out past the confines. One being the computer-gaming trance of glazed-over eyes, pixelated Vikings hacking and slashing reflected in his glasses; the other, an exasperated long-face of frustration and, finally, the resting inactivity of slumber. The presentation of these personal states of Erwin, in claustrophobic close-up, point to the possibility of two perspectives; one from the viewer and one from Erwin himself.
The insistence on limiting the camera to Erwin and the space he occupies speaks to his selfishness. The majority of what we see is Erwin because in his world he is the center of attention; at least, that is how he is presented. His field of thought appears narrow, focused and exhausted by the inconsequential – the computer game, the beer, and the rugby. He’s in a suspended state of adolescence, shirking responsibilities that do not fit within his hierarchy of importance; all while his incredibly patient wife, Kate (Kate Ashley), is left parenting and caring for their two sons, plus Erwin.
When his decisions and actions are questioned or inquiries into his wellness are suggested, they are met with combative rebukes or silence. The only in-between being the solemn, fatigued utterances of not wanting to talk about it. Because of his reactions, the cinematography also hints at the way in which Erwin perceives the situation: a feeling that he is being crowded, that he is being suffocated with unwanted responsibilities time and time again. As if everyone around him is unloading their problems atop his shoulders when in fact, they are merely expecting some sort of reciprocation or cooperation.
His cagey disposition his defensiveness, could be connected to a midlife crisis or he could be simply coming to the realization that his current life is not the life he wanted; thus, rejecting at every opportunity and, at times, ignoring it completely in the hopes that it will disappear. There could be an underlying medical condition to explain all of this behavior, but again, Erwin does not want to hear about that or talk about that. He just wants to withdraw from select aspects of adulthood, to retreat to his computerized battle-world, to fixate on the colored numbers floating away from the mini-warriors.
Radwanski does a good job of remaining neutral with How Heavy this Hammer; there are no detectable traces of judgment within the film, just a presentation of events. Radwanski and Nikolay Michaylov utilize the camera as more of a conduit between the narrative actions and the audience, their presence self-relegated to the margins as a constant connection between the two. The genuine and truthful performances from all involved – especially Van Cotthem – are highly beneficial in cultivating the cinema-verite style name is looking to accomplish – which, coupled with the cinematography, make the non-judgmental tone of the film possible. A perception that any and all personal inferences are between the audience and the film.