★★★★★ Directed by: Chris Overton Written by: Rachel Shenton Starring: Rachel Shenton, Maisie Sly, Rachel Fielding, Philip York, Anna Barry, Sam Rees, Annie Cusselle Short Film Review by: Chris Olson
In what can only be described as a work of cinematic artistry, short film The Silent Child manages to do that thing that few other movies are able to do; combine a phenomenal story, spectacular visuals, and a political agenda without alienating the audience.
Written by Rachel Shenton (who also stars) and directed by Chris Overton, The Silent Child focuses on the life of deaf child Libby (Maisie Sly). Surrounded by a family with no hearing difficulties, her existence seems a lonely one, until she meets endlessly caring Joanne (Shenton), who opens up of a world of possibilities for Libby's future.
Far from a simple story of friendship overcoming all troubles, Libby's situation seems completely impaired by a culture that avoids her and a mother who won't accept her for secret reasons.
Cinema is often described as a universal language, especially silent cinema, but this is not true. Nothing is truly universal unless extra support is given to accommodate all needs. Fortunately many cinemas do have options for audiences that need them, such as subtitles for deaf and hard of hearing viewers, or audio description for those with poor or no vision. But it is this attitude that The Silent Child seeks to promote whilst highlighting the irrational blockades that are sometimes thrown in the way of people like Libby. One example is a classroom seating chart on the laptop of Joanne which illuminates her face with the simple but brilliant idea that it is - having children sit in a half-moon in order to facilitate lip readers. And then witnessing Libby’s mum vehemently refusing to learn sign language, something which would enable them to have a conversation, instead choosing to see her daughter’s lack of hearing as an abnormality that cannot be overcome.
By exploring the ideas of language in society through a short film as versatile and powerful as this, the message could not be clearer.
From a filmmaking aspect, this is a stunning movie. From the wonderful opening overhead reverse tracking shot to the glimpse through the school railings, immersion is the only option when you are in the hands of a DoP like Ali Farahani. The score is sumptuous without becoming an obstruction, and the use of focus in certain sequences was smartly done to pick out the pathos and isolation felt by key characters.
Most likely 2018’s greatest short film and one of the decade’s best, The Silent Child will go down as a monumental achievement in filmmaking, heroic storytelling, and a stark reminder that we all hold within our own grasp the power to ease someone else’s suffering.