‘The Sounding’ explores society’s aggressive need to assimilate otherness

As a mentally ill™ woman, stories about social otherness have always interested me. The complexities of the brain remain a mystery even to the medical profession, and the portrayal of communicative deviance on screen is always a bit hit-and-miss; such exploration is a minefield of offensive tropes disguised as well-meaning artistic choices. Whether through the simpering weakness of the protagonist, clumsily shoehorned romances suddenly providing a cure, or the assignment of villainous traits to all who cannot – or will not – bow to society’s expectations of them, there are a lot of places to go wrong with portrayals of mental illness on screen.

‘The Sounding’ avoids all of these, and instead provides a profound study on the beauty of our differences.

Catherine Eaton in The Sounding (2017) © The Sounding

The true strength of the film is found in the character of Liv (actress/writer/director Catherine Eaton), who lives on a remote island with her grandfather Lionel. She is brilliant in many ways – as a proficient painter, actress, and dancer, her life is filled with artistry. She spends her days laughing amongst friends, and her nights listening to her beloved grandfather read Shakespeare, her sparkling eyes attentive, holding onto every syllable. She is surrounded by the natural beauty of her home, the affection of her community, and the passion she has for her interests. Her life is bustling with emotional prosperity.

And through all this, Liv has never spoken a word.

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Manchester Film Festival ’18: ‘Can’t Say Goodbye’ is a bleak family drama anchored by stunning performances

The tale of warring sisters is well-trodden cinematic ground by this point. These sisters are often opposite in nature – one is sensible, the other rebellious, one has a family, the other does not, one is emotional, the other logical. ‘Can’t Say Goodbye’ follows this pattern at first glance but adds a nuance that many similar dramas disregard; the relationship between the sisters in question remains loosely supportive despite their oppositional personalities. The intensity of these characters and the commitment of each actor transforms what could have been a bland melodrama into a touching commentary on the life of a fractured family.

Nathalie Poza in No sé decir adiós (2017). © Lolita Films

Carla – strong, unruly, sniffs mysterious white substances in bathrooms – is living alone in Barcelona when she gets a call from her sister Blanca. Their father has been taken ill, and Carla must return to her childhood home in order to play the doting daughter. The relationship between Carla and Blanca is nuanced from the moment they reunite: they throw barbs at each other one moment, then compliment each other the next. (“You look great, bitch.”) Blanca informs Carla of her wishes to become an actress, and Carla half-heartedly confirms her approval. Their words are never emotional, but the link is there: they’re family, and they don’t need to be affectionate to show their bond. The pair form a strikingly real representation of two very different people who have grown together despite a clashing of personalities. When you’ve known somebody for that long, after all, they become part of the furniture.

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Manchester Film Festival ’18: ‘Love is Dead’ is a warm-hearted French comedy full of wonderfully poignant moments

Comedy can often be a difficult genre to transcend cultural lines. Luckily, the quirky premise of ‘Love is Dead’ – a one-man business dedicating to assisting people with break-ups – has enough promise to entice audiences of any background. At the heart of the Love is Dead company is Mathias (Benjamin Lavernhe) who, despite his reprehensible career, is immediately likable in his young, witty demeanour. Mathias is soon joined by the over-eager and quite frankly adorable Juliette (Elisa Ruschke), who is keen to learn as much as she can about the service that Love is Dead provides. Juliette, however, struggles to separate the harshness of work from her own morality – and this is where the film reaches past its unique foundation to discuss difficult topics with a sensitive, empathetic style.

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Benjamin Lavernhe and Elisa Ruschke in Love is Dead (2016). © Scope Pictures

Mathias’ stone-cold line on relationships is rooted firmly in his logical belief that if love is over, then the cleanest and kindest thing to do is end it painlessly. This is where Love is Dead steps in. Mathias approaches the victim (breakup-ee?), lures them into a false sense of security, and then rips the band-aid off quickly: “Your partner doesn’t want to be with you anymore. Please sign here. Do you need a tissue?”

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Manchester Film Festival ’18: ‘Bernard and Huey’ attempts to make misogyny endearing

‘Bernard and Huey’ is indisputably a film about women. The opening features a shot of an address book, detailing various female names and, presumably, phone numbers. Women are discussed in virtually every conversation, for their habits, their faults, their advantages. There are multiple female characters within the film, and a few of them even get the chance to talk.

Unfortunately, ‘Bernard and Huey’ fails to treat its female characters like actual people.

Set in modern day New York, the film introduces its protagonists through a flashback of the eponymous pair discussing how best to “make out” with a woman; whilst Bernard has never made out, Huey is popular with the ladies, a paradoxical achievement considering his misogynistic ways. He discards his women with an ease that Bernard approaches with equal disgust and awe – surely, women cannot keep falling for this abhorrent pig of a man?

David Koechner and Jim Rash in Bernard and Huey (2017). © Eat Bug Films LLC

Fast-forward twenty-five years and the tables have turned. Bernard (Jim Rash), now 49, is living a sparse lifestyle, caught in a cycle of break-up/make-up with a girlfriend. When Huey (David Koechner) turns up at his door, scruffy and drunk, Bernard does not recognise him: middle age has not treated his former best friend kindly. He’s now a divorcee with two kids that hate him and, though he frequently repeats that women would do anything to sleep with him, he cannot seem to find the spark he used to have when it comes to romance.

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