Language is only one of a myriad of issues that may stand in the way of effective communication. Most of the time, the failure to communicate may be of no great consequence but all too often it can also be a catastrophe. 2014's Listen, a short film about a Muslim woman trying to tell Danish police about her abusive husband, demonstrates this succinctly. Yet, even at twelve minutes, it might be slightly longer than it needs to be.
The film mostly consists of close-ups and the first portion borrows a technique from Ingmar Bergman's Persona. The woman (Zeinab Rahal) tells the two officers and their interpreter about how her husband hits her and about the terror she feels at the idea of going back home to him. We see her telling the story in tight close-up, then we hear the audio repeated but this time with a tight close-up on the interpreter's face. As in the Bergman film, the point is to show us how the impact and impression of the text is altered depending on whether we're looking at the face of the speaker or the listener. In this case, I think the point may have been as well served by a two-shot. But it's nice to see a Bergman reference.
It seems like it ought to be simple enough to walk into a police station and report a crime. But the issue of language here is only the first obstacle that leads to others; there's the alien culture of the Danish police to deal with and then there's the interpreter (Amira Helene Larsen), another Muslim, who, despite being a woman herself, is not disposed to look favourably on a woman being disobedient to her husband.
In twelve minutes, tension and tragedy are both effectively ramped up and the point becomes very clear. Some problems, you can't anticipate, you'll never even guess they exist, until you experience them, or until you see a film like this.
Listen is available on The Criterion Channel.
Twitter Sonnet #1418
Reminders stir the egg between the dough.
The dancing eye contained a partner tear.
The arrow turned around its twisted bow.
The line was knotted round the rusty gear.
Successive shows'll sort the questions slow.
It timing pale, the gloomy day resumed.
And then the silver pen began to glow.
The steady time in gulps was fast consumed.
The closing show reopened stagey eyes.
In time for snacks the flashing light was shown.
We chose between the cakes and fluffy pies.
We ate between the meat and healthy bone.
A softened ball of rice was sweet to taste.
A fax to Elder Gods your time will waste.