Nervous Translation (2017)

Nervous Translation
Director: Shireen Seno
Writer: Shireen Seno
Cast: Jana Agoncillo, Angge Santos, Sid Lucero, Nafa Hilario-Cruz
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 3.11.2018

Shy Yael (Jana Agoncillo) is only 8 years old, and yet she spends most of her time on her own at home. Her father works abroad, but she has letters he speaks on tape that she listens to a lot. Her mother (Angge Santos) works closer to home, but when she finally comes home in the evening, she has no energy left for Yael. When Yael sees the advertisement for a pen that is supposed to be able to translate thoughts and feelings into writing, she is transfixed – maybe this will be the way for her to communicate.

There was a lot I liked about Nervous Translation, but the film didn’t really click for me. Maybe it just was too quiet a film programmed too late in the evening, but for whatever reason, I just didn’t connect with it as much as I would have liked.

The film poster showing a girl, a man, a woman, a cassette player and a cassette as cutouts over a beige background.

I like films that stay in children’s perspective and this one certainly does. This demands a lot from its young protagonist, but fortunately Jana Agoncillo is impressively up to the task. The film focuses a lot on the competences Yael has – and they are among the scariest things here. Such a young girl shouldn’t be able to, for example, cook entire meals, albeit tiny and on a doll’s stove powered with a candle. She should still be pretending to cook with that stuff.

It’s easy to see Yael’s loneliness, but I had trouble actually feeling it myself and that is what ultimately kept me from really loving the film. Though it wasn’t the only thing that didn’t work for me. The pen was the other thing, making me wish that the film had either introduced it earlier or not at all. Which is a weird impulse, given that it is a very central thing in the film, if not the central thing.

A girl with her head on her arms, bathed in red light.

But that doesn’t mean that there were no things that I enjoyed about the film, not at all. The miniatures were really nice, I really enjoyed the music and the slow, calm pace at which it unfolds it story (despite my gripes about the late introduction of the pen). And I liked that despite the depressing matter, it retains a sense of humor.

And yet, I couldn’t shake the disconnect I felt from the feeling, the lack of a yes!-moment that really pushed the film into my heart. It’s a pity, but I don’t think it’s the film’s fault.

A doll stove with the hands of a girl using it.

Summarizing: Didn’t quite work for me, but worth trying

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