Listen presents several different issues through a singular conflict: a petrified mother, trapped in a violent relationship looking for protection from the police; a translator who isn’t properly translating; and a son who just wants to go home, insisting that: “I’m big now. I can defend you.” The film also offers a religious conflict for the mother and audience to reflect on: contact the imam and pray, or seek refuge? The decision has been made for the mother, and she must live with the consequences.
Writer-directors Rungano Nyoni and Hamy Ramzan are not afraid to ask questions and put the audience in an unbearable position. They offer privileged information by allowing the audience to understand all the different languages being spoken through subtitles. This creates a kind of anti-suspense, a dramatic irony wherein the audience is begging for salvation instead of explanation.
“Listen to me. We’ll contact the imam.” Here, the shot becomes uncomfortably tight, the translator’s face filling the frame in an oppressive and intimidating fashion. The low angle of the camera, making her even more imposing, abruptly stuns the audience and throws them into fear and discomfort.
As the Mother, Zeinab Rahal delivers a phenomenal performance without the use of her face. Through nothing but body language and tone of voice she is able to communicate her immense fear and create a human, engaging performance. Eyes are often described as the windows to the soul, but Rahal proves that wrong.
Listen is devastating from the offset without relief. It would be nice to be able to say there’s a positive message to take away from this film, but it’s not that kind of story. What it does is demonstrate Nyoni and Ramezan’s ability to deal with harsh realities with dignity.
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DIRECTORS: Rungano Nyoni, Hamy Ramezan
WRITERS: Rungano Nyoni, Hamy Ramezan
CINEMATOGRAPHY : Lars Vestergaard
SYNOPSIS: In a Copenhagen police station a terrified woman is filing a complaint against her abusive husband. But even in her desperation she cannot find refuge due to a translator with her own motive.