THE SILENT CHILD(2017)
What sterling and timeless works like CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, BRIDGE TO SILENCE, CODA and SOUND OF METAL have time and again done, over decades altogether, is to bring a world of empathy for deaf and hard of hearing individuals. It’s to bring the world of silence and empathy to prevail and if not prevail then exist harmoniously within normative social spheres. Everyone needs a fighting chance to survive and thrive.
Oscar-winning short THE SILENT CHILD is in recognition of those able, empathetic communicators who bridge cultural and social gaps for those born to worlds where anything other than ‘perfection’ is anathema. The six year old here is a neglected child whose parents barely talk to her, don’t actually register her presence at the dining table when with the other older kids and desperately want her to master speech therapy as learning sign language isn’t for them. Hectic schedules, the supposed superiority complex ingrained in being parent and provider and a general disdain for a special child become part of the truth here.
There is a brief halcyon period in which teacher and student make the core of communicating through sign language their world. It constitutes the truth and a validation for each others’ efforts, for the natural bonding that is the strongest frontier to counter ableism and discrimination.
Parents are never necessarily supportive angels and can make us embrace our flaws a little too readily; their own disappointment with themselves and with a world that looks down upon their children’s special needs can be detrimental for generations. Here, the child’s parentage is cruelly peddled by a matriarch and becomes a complex subtext to further understand the manner in which she’s unfairly treated.
Compassion is key in THE SILENT CHILD. It is found in the child and her true guardian- her teacher. They are separated by those who claim to know better about her future. The ending moments, with them separated by a gate, the girl alone in the playground and the teacher outside meeting her for what may be the final time, is heartbreaking. When they sign the magic words I LOVE YOU, the full force of a cruel, inconsiderate world hits us. We can only enable change with multiple willing participants. What if there are roadblocks even before a legitimate breakthrough is reached? THE SILENT CHILD addresses this with tact and profound sensitivity.
Our world needs better. Our children deserve to be seen, heard and felt for the creatures of beauty and wonder they are, for who they are without precedents of perfection attached to their being. Kudos to writer and actor Rachel Shenton, director Chris Overton and Maisie Sly for imbuing us with the truth.
A life left ajar by the absence of a true soulmate- here, he being the protagonist’s father- is stirred by the entries and exits in a ghost house.
In AFTERSUN director Charlotte Wells’ eleven minute short film, we are stirred by the teenager’s combative interactions with parent, teacher and friend, most of them communicated by little actual words and more by brooding expressions. It is a perfect prelude to her celebrated 2022 masterpiece, showing us how even back in her foundational days, she was immune to making concessions to her penchant for realism.
The grey sky palette, foggy windows and indoor lamp lights, especially, help in situating the circumstances of alienation and teenage angst. So does a hole in the sweater or an empty glass of juice in the father’s house. Above all, instead of even sparingly opting for a musical cue, she lets the silence of realisation, the silence of coming home to strangers, capture that key moment in our young lives where we learn the harsh truth about being solitary voyagers.
Tuesday comes & goes. Here as in so many splintered young lives, we hang on to its arrival with a gasp of hope, for a reunion, a reunion with those we love.
Megan McGill is the perfect receptacle as essentially a younger embodiment of Ms. Wells. Note how the dialogue, “why did you do that for?” here channels Frankie Corio mouthing the same lines in an agitated state in AFTERSUN. The authorial, thematic unity in both is one of empathy brought on by memory. It’s brought on by a longing for the father who is lost to the horizon.
LE PUPILLE (2022)
Pupille is a term that means an orphan and the centre of the eye( i.e. pupil); in a simplified and obvious sense, the word can mean a pupil/ student. These are all various ways in which a single word can be interpreted by us. All of them mean well in the case of Alice Rohrwacher’s Oscar-nominated short LE PUPILLE ( currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar)
The eyes of children living in a boarding school in war-time Italy see all that their immediate world has to offer. News of masculine posturings on radio, rationing of food, strict vigil by the young nuns who run it with an universally acknowledged steely resolve and discipline are seen and felt. But how can these innocent creatures truly grasp the humanity behind man-made wars raging far and wide? How can they relinquish little joys of childhood in service of the larger jingoistic cause that may never even take into its account these women and children pulling off duties of a mundane civilian life?
There is a whimsy, a keen eye for the details of adult life that children have a way of undercutting or offsetting with pure intent. Serafina( a lovingly priceless Melissa Falasconi),
at the center here and yet part of the larger tableau of girls living under strictures of religion and behaviour, finds out that it’s not her fault that she’s naturally curious and guileless to tell the truth, when the others are cornered by an authority figure into feeling guilty about listening to popular music and dancing joyfully to it. ‘Wicked’ is a word that is reclaimed and subverted by them, the children against few adults, to become a cause for rebellion, in the most innocent way that only they can. If that means refusing to let go of a delicious piece of cake so be it. After all, it’s for unity among them and upholding joy, in the little moments that bind them.
The prime authority figure here( Alba Rohrwacher) of course becomes the actual ‘wicked one’ but not without showing us the crooked, dispassionate ways of an order that prices detachment above direct engagement with the world at large. Wartime destroys an order of peace and stability for women and children who lose their loved ones or anticipate their return. It’s here. In a Christmas tale where the legend of Scrooge finds a reflection in the nun and the universality of wonder and camaraderie comes full circle for the kids and those grossly underpaid chimney sweepers, the human truth triumphs. An elaborately created cake does it for them.
LE PUPILLE hence showers us with facts of life we all identify with. There is a reason why the kids’ eyes, shot in tight close-ups, occupy the frames here.