The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - LISTEN | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - LISTEN

New to Prime Video - LISTEN
A misunderstanding leads to a deaf child being taken away from her immigrant parents.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Ana Rocha De Sousa

Starring: Lucia Moniz, Sophia Myles, Maisie Sly, Ruben Garcia, James Felner

listen poster

Listen, actor Ana Rocha’s devastating directorial debut (Rocha also co-wrote the film, along with Paula Alvarez Vaccaro and Aaron Brookner) opens with keenly framed shots of a family getting their young charges ready for school: washing billowing on lines, breakfast cereals, a hotly contested bathroom system. Both adults and children speak in English and Portuguese, with parents Bela (Lúcia Moniz) and Jota (Ruben Garcia) keen to retain their identity, yet also to integrate their children into British society (Diego, James Felner, Lu, Maisie Sly, and baby makes three). It’s the sort of domestic set up that we may scoff at for its quotidian simplicity, yet gently envy for its loving peace, which is clearly communicated by the concise performances. Rocha’s burgeoning theme of communication is consolidated by Lu’s deafness, and the misfortune of her hearing aid battery failing before school (my father has one, and I can vouch for this happening more often than you may imagine). Harried, the parents pack Lu off to school anyway...

listen review

And then further cracks begin to show. Taking the kids out for a walk, Bela secretes the youngest down an alley before taking the empty pram into a corner shop for some home essentials shoplifting: working without a contract, husband Jota is waiting on a pay cheque. As she pilfers bread, the kids are discovered by an aghast stranger before a flustered Bela finally returns. In school, Lu’s inability to hear causes an incident which leads to the school nurse noticing a series of bruises on the kid’s back... It is implied that social services have been involved with the family before, which, of course, means that the school is duty bound to contact them again. A Care Order is instigated and, in a harrowing sequence, the next day the children are taken into care.

While certain aspects of Listen’s opening are a bit on the nose, the performances across the board, encouraged by actor-by-trade Rocha’s intuitive direction, are deeply affecting, balancing desperate emotion with poignant credibility. This is the heart-breaking centre of Listen - witnessing Bela (alternately distraught and stoic) and Jota (furious, then calm) attempting to cope with the devastation of losing their family and a system stacked against them. The depiction of the soash here is unforgiving: the children are kept in a bleak building, comprised of utilitarian classrooms with shattered windows, while the attitude of its officials is obstinate and unhelpful. The family are not allowed to speak to each other in Portuguese, and a meeting is halted when Bela attempts sign language. When the offer of support from an underground system occurs, it becomes an essential last resort...

listen review

The moral situations depicted in Listen are tricky. Firstly, the film seems weighted against social services in a manner that I did not particularly feel comfortable with. The aid provided by the social services may not be perfect, but, to my mind, at least there is a system in place which is designed to support and help vulnerable children. And while your heart may break for the characters on screen, at the same time if there wasn’t an intervention involved in a family where the mother leaves a kid in an alley to steal food she can’t afford, while another child has a mysteriously bruised back, you would wonder where your tax pound was going.

The film argues that this is a family which requires assistance, however, and not the full extent of social sanctions. Yet in Listen the authorities are at times venal, and withhold information, almost as if they want the children to be separated across the country with unfamiliar families: a narrative dynamic which seems contrived to provide conflict, at times unconvincingly.

listen review

Perhaps there is a truth somewhere between Listen’s authoritative representations and the everyday reality of social work, and while I am certain that Bela’s story is one that has tough precedents in real life, one would hope that there are more hopeful outcomes, too (brief disclosure: in another of my lives, the events depicted in Listen are very close to home, indeed. Working with children who are in care, and some who perhaps should be in care, and who make disclosures which always need to be acted upon is complicated, and difficult and the outcomes are rarely ideal. The sickening choices figures of authority are committed to make are never ever easy. A final by-the-by observation: no one is judged more harshly in such situations than a mother).

Its didacticism aside, Listen is a highly accomplished dramatic achievement. And even if its ideological bias may be questionable, the film does invite negotiation and questions, and offers a valuable portrayal of lives which most of us will thankfully never have personal experience of. Last year in the UK there were 388,490 children placed on care plans.

Listen is on Prime Video UK now.