Visio Divina – Movies: ‘CODA’ (Netflix) & ‘A Father’s Legacy’

April 2022 – We present two Visio Divina offerings from Peter Malone msc this month – ‘CODA’ and ‘A Father’s Legacy’.

CODA

Oscar-winner for Best Picture, 2021. And, interestingly, a winner from a streaming service, Apple, rather than from cinema distribution.

CODA is an arresting title and needs explanation. It stands for children of deaf adults. Which means that the film takes us into the daily life and struggles of a deaf family, father, mother and son profoundly deaf, the daughter, by contrast, able to hear and speak. And, as the narrative progresses, more than able to sing.

The producer of this film also produced a French film, The Belier Family (2014), the story of a family on a farm, coping with farming life, but the daughter able to hear and speak, also able to sing. While the film is a remake, the main French storylines are incorporated into CODA, the location now the fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Sian Heder, director of the film, also adapted the screenplay which also won an Oscar.

The hearing audience is invited into the family, to experience the hard-working fishing and processing, the struggle to make ends meet, the building up of the family business, the son in his father’s footsteps, the daughter having to go early, share the work and then go to school. There are subtitles – but, it is worth avoiding the subtitles at times just to appreciate the signed communication, the experience of the signing world.

British actress Emilia Jones is believable as Ruby (and, it seems, spent six months learning American sign language for the film). She has friends at school and suffers slights from those not sympathetic to her family. She joins the choir, initially timid, but encouraged by the exceedingly eccentric choirmaster, played by Eugenio Derbez. He sees and hears her talent and encourages her with private lessons, to build up her capacity for an audition and a singing scholarship.

Needless to say, there are many struggles within the family, regulations for the fishing industry, a supervisor arriving unaware, initially, that the men were deaf, not hearing the Coast Guard boat approaching to warn them off. There are court cases. However, there is also solidarity and the community gathering together to bypass the fishing agents and set up a co-op.

Ruby, of course, is torn between her love for her family and her sense of obligation to help them and the requirements of the demanding singing instructor. But, more and more, Ruby learns to stand her ground.

Every audience will be impressed by the deaf actors, Daniel Durant as the son, Oscar-winning Marlee Matlin for her 1986 performance in Children of a Lesser God here playing the wife. Most impressive perhaps is Troy Kotsur as the father, an interesting and challenging screen presence, and, deservedly, winning the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. (And the response at the Oscars ceremony and his signed speech, his tribute to family, memories of his career, the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar, were well worth seeing.)

In many ways, the plot outline is quite familiar, not entirely unexpected. However, being invited into the world of the deaf, of communication by signing is an important experience for hearing audiences. And this is reinforced in the sequence where Ruby performs, her family going int the auditorium, seeing rather than hearing, a sense of rhythm and vibration, the film’s soundtrack going silent.

US, 2021, 111 minutes, Colour.  Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez.  Directed by Sian Heder.  See the trailer here.


A FATHER’S LEGACY

To say that this is a home invasion and hostage drama, which is actually true, does not do justice to the film or its themes.

This is a film which is usually categorised as a “faith-film”, produced for an audience of believers and churchgoers, with some hope that it will touch the hearts of those who do not believe. (Which is a difficulty for many audiences who do not share the faith of so many American audiences, automatically put off by any suggestion of explicit religion, the Bible, prayer, and reacting with a kind of passive-aggressive irksome response – which can be gauged by Googling some of the reactions to this film.)

Which, being said, enables a reviewer to talk about the film in itself. While it presupposes a sympathy towards faith and prayer in its audience, it is comparatively reticent in comparison with other films of its kind. There is a Bible. There is a reference to some verses. And, at the end, wonderful use of that most excellent poem-Psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd.

But, the film is also robust, an atmosphere of violence in the opening home invasion sequences and later when some thugs threaten the central character.

The important thing, however, is to focus on the central character, Billy, played with some dignity by Tobin Bell (who is probably best-known to many audiences, and to horror fans, for his role as Jigsaw in the Saw series). Here he is a benign man, older, having served in Vietnam, Silver Star, living alone and isolated. But, as his opening prayer indicates, lifting his eyes to the sky, he is ready for God to take him at any time.

Suddenly, a man with a gun invades his home. The man has been shot, is erratic in his behaviour, abusive, waving his gun, dominating Billy. But Billy tends his wounds, gives him something to eat, does not reveal his presence to the police.

As might be anticipated, most of the film will be the interaction between the two men, the gradual calming of Nick (who eventually reveals his name to Billy), their fishing together, sharing meals, each gradually enabling the other to reveal something of his life, mistakes and failings. And, each of them has a sad story to tell. While Billy tells his story verbally, the screenplay has some quick flashback indications to what has happened with Nick, the robbery, his wife and her pregnancy, faith and prayer, is discussing religion with a minister – negatively.

And, so, the week passes, and the discovery as thugs turn up to threaten Billy, that a property owner in the town wants Billy to sell him his land – with the threat of the thugs burning it down.

There is a dramatic confrontation and quite a dramatic trick in the screenplay which will disturb audiences as they watch it, are apprehensive, but then are calmed.

At times the screenplay is didactic, Billy instructing Nick, metaphors, stones rippling on the water and consequences. But the dialogue also shows the value of deeper conversation, empathetic listening, the encouragement to confession, self-revelation, the desire for forgiveness, some atonement and reconciliation. Which means that the film can be well used by churches, religious groups, discussions with families, younger audiences.

The film also shows that you can’t judge a screenwriter and director by the character of the character they portray on screen. Jason Mac, longtime actor, has written the screenplay, has directed the film, and plays Nick.

A good example of a Faith-film.

US, 2020, 90 minutes, Colour.  Tobin Bell, Jason Mac, Rebecca Robles.  Directed by Jason Mac.  See the trailer here.