At The Movies: Sound Of Metal, The Reason I Jump recreate world of the differently abled

Sound Of Metal, starring Riz Ahmed. PHOTO: THE PROJECTOR

Sound Of Metal (NC16)

120 minutes, opens April 1 exclusively at The Projector

4 stars

This is a point-of-view movie designed to immerse viewers in the world of the differently abled.

Other film-makers might simply turn down the volume to simulate deafness from the point of view, or rather, the point of hearing of the protagonist. Director Darius Marder uses studio audio processing techniques to re-create the loss of certain frequencies and how those sounds are experienced over, say, at a table full of diners, or in a rock concert. The effect is terrifying.

The horror of sudden hearing loss hits rock drummer Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed in a performance that has justly earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. The film has five other Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, Original Screenplay and Editing.

The cause of Ruben's deafness is never explained; he looks to be wearing hearing protection when he pounds his instrument at high-decibel shows.

As tends to happen in movies about those afflicted with a career-ending injury, Ruben's journey is a typical one of denial, anger, bargaining and so on. It is a version of the stages of grieving. There is even a chairs-in-a-circle session in which people say their names and why they need help.

What sets this apart from other films in the "bloke sobs in the bathtub, then punches a hole in the wall" personal anguish genre is how the deaf community is depicted. Marder's background in documentary making stands him in good stead here, especially when the debate about the right of the deaf to be treated as a distinct but equal community is mentioned.

Using a mix of professional actors and deaf non-actors, the director and co-writer blends fiction and non-fiction elements with great care and with an eye to discovering a world just as rich and compelling as the one inhabited by those who can hear.

The Reason I Jump (PG13)

82 minutes, opens April 1

4 stars

This ambitious documentary takes the "show, don't tell" form of film-making to a new level by translating the sensory experience of persons with autism into a cinematic experience.

British director Jerry Rothwell applies techniques from fiction storytelling, such as slow motion, extreme closeups and studio-created sound effects, to pick out a detail from the background - say, the hum of a ceiling fan, the buzz of a curbside power transformer or the patter of raindrops.

A still from the documentary The Reason I Jump. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

The gracefully-executed vignettes that take the autistic person's point of view are not just immersive - especially through a cinema's 7.1 sound system - they are also empathy-building. Viewers enter the visual and auditory world of the autistic - one that can be beautiful but for the autistic, also anxiety-triggering, when events that can easily be ignored by the neurotypical become overwhelming for those without the filters.

As author Naoki Higashida writes in a line from the book of the same name from which this film was adapted, the autistic are "envoys from another world".

There are journalistic elements here are strong and expressed without didacticism.

The film portrays the circumstances of five persons with autism from around the world who live in India, the United States, England and Sierra Leone. Most are non-speaking and through the use of laptops and letter boards, their rich inner lives become known.

It is interesting and also deeply saddening to think that just a few decades ago, the non-verbal ones might have been written off and institutionalised.

There is a powerful sense of empathy for the caregivers, who are mostly parents. They are sometimes shown to be frustrated or at the end of their rope when their child has an emotional episode, or when institutions fail to take their needs into account.

Hi, Mom (PG13)

Jia Ling (left) and Zhang Xiaofei in the film Hi, Mom. PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS

128 minutes, opens April 1

4 stars

This hilarious and occasionally tear-jerking drama-comedy comes to Singapore with a number of records from its home country of China - including the second highest-grossing movie (after the action blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2, 2017) and highest-grossing movie ever by a female director (beating Patty Jenkin's Wonder Woman, 2017).

Television sketch comedy veteran Jia Ling co-wrote, stars in and directs this tender story based on her own life, featuring an ensemble cast she works with frequently.

Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) is a Chinese slacker, a woman who has, as she herself puts it, failed to make her mother proud. Nor does she earn enough to give her ageing parent a life of ease.

A freak accident sends the daughter back in time. Jia is determined to fix history so her mother, now a young single woman (Zhang Xiaofei), can meet a wealthy man and have the life she deserves, even if it means that Jia might never be born.

A skilfully-crafted mother-daughter emotional core drives this story, one that features the Asian anxiety of never being good enough for one's parents.

The struggle is never sentimentalised. Jia Ling's sense of what is funny is spot-on and she steps in to undermine proceedings when the pathos gets too thick.

There is an astounding amount of craft in how scenes are constructed. For example, there is a scene that takes place in a department store queue in 1980s China, a time when ration coupons determined who could buy one of a limited supply of television sets.

That brilliant scene sets up the context of a period when owning a television meant you were the centre of attention at your workplace, and is a gem of cleverly-observed physical comedy as those in line try to sneak ahead. It also plausibly arranges the meeting between the time-travelling daughter and younger version of her mother.

The film features a number of these tightly-written skits, performed by a cast whose easy rapport is obvious.

Herself (NC16)

A still from the movie Herself, starring Clare Dunne (centre). PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

90 minutes, opens April 1

Not reviewed

This British-Irish production, winner of awards at festivals in Dublin and elsewhere, traces the life of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a mother of two young daughters as she tries to find a suitable place to live after leaving her physically abusive husband.

Good, affordable housing close to her job is impossible to come by. Sandra decides to take matters into her own hands, but needs the help of those who claim to care for her.

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