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(1998) (Sylvie Testud, Howie Seago) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young woman's relationship with her deaf parents becomes strained when she pursues her love of music.
Eight-year-old Lara (TATJANA TRIEB) is a precocious young girl whose parents, Martin (HOWIE SEAGO) and Kai (EMMANUELLE LABORIT), are both deaf. Living in a society where she needs her parents as much as they need her, Lara serves as their translator since they speak German sign language and relatively few hearing people do.

Beyond occasionally interpreting a conversation to best suit her own needs, Lara unknowingly hurts her father by being enamored with his sister, Clarissa (SIBYLLE CANONICA). Ever since Martin laughed at her music recital when they were kids -- as he could only see her playing a clarinet and not hear any of it -- they've never gotten along. Punished for that indiscretion, Martin has hated music ever since, and has never gotten along with his family who opted not to learn sign language.

Thus, Martin isn't happy when Clarissa gives Lara her first clarinet and the young girl quickly becomes musically proficient. Years later, eighteen-year-old Lara (SYLVIE TESTUD) has handed over the translation duties to her younger sister, Marie (ALEXANDRA BOLZ) and goes to live with Clarissa and her husband, Gregor (MATTHIAS HABICH). There she meets Tom (HANSA CZYPIONKA), a teacher for the deaf. As a romance blossoms between the two, Lara must deal with her music training, but also with her strained relationship with her father.

Probably not -- a German film about a girl dealing with her deaf parents won't be much of a draw.
For a scene of sexuality (Edited for Re-Rating from the original R).
  • TATJANA TRIEB and SYLVIE TESTUD play the young and teenage versions of a hearing girl who grows up with deaf parents. As a young girl, Lara is precocious and often interprets dialogue for her parents to best suit her own needs, while as an older teen she has many arguments with her father over her love of music and other items.
  • HOWIE SEAGO plays Lara's loving and deaf father whose deep-seated hatred for music (stemming from a childhood incident) creates friction between the two.
  • SIBYLLE CANONICA plays Lara's free spirited aunt who encourages Lara to pursue her love of music.


    OUR TAKE: 8.5 out of 10
    Films that truthfully depict deaf characters are about as rare as people in the mainstream who know sign language. For every "The Miracle Worker" and "Children of a Lesser God," there's a "Hear No Evil" (a deaf woman can't hear the villains after her) or "In The Company of Men" (a deaf woman is the focal point of a misogynist's revenge scheme) that use deafness only as a plot gimmick.

    Additionally, few people are probably aware that varying and incompatible versions of sign language exist throughout the world (just like many spoken foreign languages) and that in many countries deaf individuals face long odds of leading "normal" lives in societies where they cannot be commonly understood.

    Thus, the interest and pleasure in discovering a film such as "Beyond Silence," the German production that received a 1997 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film. Not only is the picture a well produced and satisfying drama, but it's also an intriguing look at not only being deaf, but being that way in a country where sign language is not publicly accepted.

    While the film doesn't explore the issue of how hearing children born to deaf parents learn to speak (a point I was curious about), it does present a carefully constructed and co-dependent world between deaf parents and their hearing kids. Here, not only does Lara have to act as an interpreter, but she must also explain to her parents what things sound like. It's something most hearing people don't even pause to consider, but such moments do provide the film with some truly touching, and interesting moments.

    Somewhat similar to another film dealing with a deaf character, "Mr. Holland's Opus," this film uses the sound and overall concept of music as both a symbolic metaphor directly related to a deaf person's aural limitations, but also as a strong and quite believable plot element. As such, and since Lara's parents depend on her as much as she does on them, her urgent desire to learn music drives a wedge between their worlds.

    This particularly affects her father who's had a deep-seated hatred of music after a traumatic childhood experience where he was severely reprimanded (immediately and long-term) for laughing at his sister's recital that he could see, but not hear. As Lara becomes more musically proficient, her father believes that his part in her world is slipping further from his reach. At one point he signs to her, "Sometimes I wish you were deaf -- Then you'd totally be in my world." That whole dramatic element works quite well and is superbly presented throughout the production.

    The performances are also quite good across the board with several of them being outstanding. In particular, the two young women who inhabit Lara at different ages are great. Young Tatjana Trieb, who makes her feature film debut, is delightful in her role as the precociously mature girl. Not only does she deliver a superb performance -- especially considering it's her first cinematic outing -- but reportedly she also had to learn sign language and how to play the clarinet for the part. The handoff of the character from Trieb to Sylvie Testud (one of France's rising film stars) is only a little jarring (mainly because of our admiration of Trieb, but also do to the substantial age change), but we quickly warm to her and her performance.

    Howie Seago (a deaf performer seen in several stateside TV shows) is also quite good in his role. Perfectly playing the concerned and distraught father, our only disappointment in his character is that he's nearly always sullen -- a pleasant or happy look on his face would have made him more sympathetic, but Seago still does a wonderful job. The supporting performances, from Emmanuelle Laborit as Lara's beautiful mother to Sybille Canonica's take as Lara's supportive aunt, are also quite good.

    Writer/director Caroline Link ("Kalle, the Dreamer"), making her feature film debut, has crafted a superb little film about this young woman, her deaf parents, and their need for her to communicate with the outside world. Link has designed some wonderful moments that hearing people (especially in the U.S.) don't ever think about, such as a deaf congregation signing a song that they're singing, and young Lara interpreting her mother's favorite romance movies on TV for her (since they don't have closed captioning). In addition, she's also delivered some impressive visuals. Perhaps the best is the opening scene, where we're underneath a frozen lake, looking up through the ice, and hear only the muffled sounds of ice skates traveling overhead.

    For once, the subtitles on a film actually work to its benefit. Many films, such as "Children of a Lesser God," have the hearing character audibly repeat what the other person is signing -- a somewhat necessary device for mainstream audiences. Here, however, the audience (and we're referring to non-German speaking moviegoers), must read the subtitles and are thus put on something more akin to an equal playing field with the deaf. While it may only be momentary, that effect and the film in general make one understand and appreciate what's often taken for granted. "Beyond Silence" is a satisfying, emotionally moving, and quite exemplary picture that you should go see. We give it an 8.5 out of 10.

    Some nudity and implied activity, along with several tense family moments highlight this film's content. We see bare breasts as Lara and her aunt skinny dip, as well as after a sexual encounter (that involves heavily implied, but not seen oral sex). Some tense family moments occur between Martin and Lara (mainly when she's eighteen), and Martin and his family who don't get along very well. Beyond that and a few minor elements in other categories, the rest of the film is mostly void of major objectionable material.

  • Some people in a flashback of Clarissa's recital have drinks.
  • The family has wine with dinner.
  • Clarissa, Lara and some other people have wine in front of them.
  • After skinny dipping, Clarissa and Lara drink what presumably is some sort of alcohol.
  • Gregor has a glass of wine near him, while Lara holds one while she lies on the floor.
  • Although neither bloody nor gory, we see Kai's water break and spill onto a church floor (she's pregnant).
  • Likewise, we hear Marie peeing as she sits on the toilet and talks to Lara.
  • A kid at school makes fun of Lara's reading difficulties, saying that maybe she practiced reading to her dad "and he thought it was great." Later, the same kid makes fun of her again.
  • Some may see that Lara, who doesn't always interpret everything exactly or sometimes takes liberties when acting as her parents' interpreter, has a little of both (she says, "I told them everything. Not word for word. But more or less").
  • Some may see Martin as having both for not wanting Lara to learn music (but he has deep- seated reasons for his feelings).
  • Martin's family has both for never having learned sign language to communicate with him.
  • Some may see Lara (as a young child) having both by her saying to her mom that "every real mother can ride a bike" (Kai can't because of equilibrium problems), but it isn't really said in a meanspirited or disparaging way.
  • Lara has a bit of both toward her dad and her aunt (whom she believes is now trying to suppress her love of melancholy clarinet music).
  • Nine-year-old Marie has both for traveling 300 miles by herself to visit Lara and only leaving her father a note that she has done so.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Pig head," "Pig," "Nuts" (crazy) and "Shut up" (all in English subtitles).
  • Martin throws wine in Clarissa's face after stating that his daughter is his (he's upset that she's encouraging the music).
  • Clarissa skinny dips in a lake twice, while Lara joins her once.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • 1 "s" word and 3 damns are used as expletives (all in English subtitles).
  • We see glimpses of Clarissa's bare breasts as she skinny dips in two separate scenes.
  • We see Lara's breasts (as an 18-year-old) as she does the same (but from a distance).
  • We see Lara in her bra as she puts on her makeup.
  • Lara and Tom passionately kiss and we then see them in bed nude (but don't see anything). He then kisses down her body and we see only her mild, but pleasured reactions and hear some minor sounds (as he presumably gives her oral sex). It's implied that they have sex and afterwards we see her bare breasts as well as the sides of their bare butts as they lie in the "spoons" position.
  • Gregor, Clarissa, and Lara smoke a few times.
  • Some people in a club smoke, as do some people waiting for their music exams.
  • Martin is upset that Lara wants to learn music, and that stems to a flashback scene where he got in trouble for laughing at Clarissa's recital (he couldn't hear anything and could only see her "making faces"). Since then, he and Clarissa haven't gotten along, as is the case with most of the rest of his family who didn't learn sign language to speak with him.
  • Lara and her father have a long-running argument about her wanting to learn music, and that and normal teenage angst eventually drives a wedge between them (resulting in many arguments and her eventually moving out).
  • Lara is upset that her parents are the only ones who don't attend a class program (she continually looks at their empty seats).
  • Martin's father gets after Clarissa at a family get together, stating that she doesn't do anything but spend money.
  • Martin throws wine in Clarissa's face after stating that his daughter is his (he's upset that she's encouraging the music) and learning that Lara is thinking about spending the summer with Clarissa to study music.
  • Lara sees the tension between her aunt and uncle and he eventually moves out.
  • Lara learns that her mother died in a bicycle accident, and she later gets the feeling that her father believes it's ultimately her fault (since she encouraged her mother to ride in the past).
  • Martin is mad at nine-year-old Marie for traveling 300 miles by herself to visit Lara and only leaving him a note that she has done so.
  • People who are deaf or hearing impaired and the obstacles they face in their day to day lives.
  • Hearing kids with deaf parents and how they learn to speak.
  • Martin slaps Lara after she talks back to him and states that he doesn't know what's important in life (they're arguing about music).
  • In a flashback, Martin's father violently drags him from the room after he began laughing at his sister's recital (he couldn't hear the music and thought she looked funny).

  • Reviewed May 20, 1998

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