Filmmaker Firsts: Caroline Link

#2: Beyond Silence (1996) – dir. Caroline Link

German filmmaker Caroline Link is probably best known for her film Nowhere in Africa (2001), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Beyond Silence (1996) was nominated for the same award and garnered her international recognition.

The first forty minutes of the film are terrific since its protagonist is played by a wonderful little child actress named Tatjana Trieb. She has a winsomeness that makes her a sympathetic figure. The next hour, however, causes the film to lose some of its charm because Sylvie Testud, while a good actress, is totally different in tone as the slightly older Lara. She has more of a sullen adolescent quality to her (as well as looking somewhat distractingly like Chloë Sevigny from some angles). It was harder for me to connect to this version of Lara.

An argument can be made that the film has an inclination toward ableism. Lara’s deaf father is the antagonist; even though by the end of the film he comes to an understanding about Lara’s passion for music, one cannot help but side with him since it makes sense why he would be frustrated by Lara’s audial interests. I suppose it would be impossible to accurately describe music to someone who has never been able to hear it. You could explain the feelings it creates, but I’m not sure how a person could ever imagine sounds and melodies that have never been a part of his or her world. In this way it becomes irritating to see Lara grow up and harbor ill will toward her parents; the viewer should be able to understand the viewpoint of the parents too.

On the other hand it doesn’t really make any sense why Lara’s parents are so closed off to the world that they depend on her for as much as they do. The town appears to be totally without sign language translators and the parents do not seem to be able to read lips at all. Lara’s intentional mistranslation of her father’s signing during a key scene where the Bischoffs try to borrow more money from a bank is an interesting detail, but it’s one of many plot elements totally gone from the portion of the film with teenage Lara.

The film establishes a good sense of emotionality but too often it treads into schmaltz. While much of the music was nice (like the main theme, although it’s a weak substitute for the love theme from Cinema Paradiso), the narrative takes some wrong turns. A subplot involving a love interest for Lara gives the character a chance to explore her sexuality but it still feels like it could have been cut from the film. The selling points for the viewer are young Tatjana Trieb and the deaf actors who play her parents, Howie Seago (whose red head and facial hair remind me of Vincent van Gogh) and Emmanuelle Laborit. Caroline Link shows her potential in Beyond Silence, but the film is not without flaws.

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