ReelAbilities New York: 'Mourning', 'The Straight Line', 'Aphasia'

Straight Line

The difficulty of communication is the focus of Mourning (Soog), showed in the long shots, long takes, and confined spaces convey Kamran and Sharareh's journey during a very long night.

Mourning (Soog)

Director: Morteza Farshbaf
Cast: Kiomars Giti, Sharareh Pasha, Amir Hossein Maleki
Rated: NR
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-02-10 (ReelAbilities Film Festival New York)
UK date: 2012-10-29 (General release)

The Straight Line (La Ligne Droite)

Director: Régis Wargnier
Cast: Rachida Brakni, Cyril Descours, Clementine Celarie, Seydina Blade, Thierry Godard, Gregory Gadebois, Gautier Tresor Makunda, Aladj Ba, Romain Goupil
Rated: NR
Studio: Gaumont, France 2 Cinema
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-02-13 (ReelAbilities Film Festival New York)


Director: Jim Gloster
Cast: Carl McIntyre, Dave Blamy, Tonya Bludsworth, Clemeen Connolly
Rated: NR
Year: 2010
US date: 2012-02-13 (ReelAbilities Film Festival New York)

"What was the message exactly?" A husband and wife, Kamran (Kiomars Giti) and Sharareh (Sharareh Pasha), are trying to sort out their roles in the crisis they face, namely, that the young boy in their care, Arshia (Amir Hossein Maleki), is suddenly an orphan, following a car accident. As they talk, they drive, with Arshia in the back seat, positioned between them as we watch them through the windshield. They also watch each other: the couple is deaf, and so they communicate with a combination of raspy whispers and sign language, reading lips and hands.

The difficulty of that communication is the focus of Mourning (Soog), screening at the ReelAbilities Film Festival in New York. Developed out of film workshops by Abbas Kiarostami, Morteza Farshbaf's first feature takes up some familiar strategies, as long shots, long takes, and confined spaces convey Kamran and Sharareh's journey during a very long night. This journey is material and metaphorical; the car bumps along rough roads as the couple come to confessions and surprises about their own pasts, and also must determine how and when to tell the boy what they know. He watches and listens from his seat behind them, not understanding them, and then he explains their situation to a mechanic who comes to help when their car gives out.

As the film offers glimpses of brief understanding or misunderstanding, as Kamran, Sharareh, and Arshia share mutual and separate losses, it reveals as well how limited these exchanges must be, and how imperfect any resolutions can be. That's not to say that their questions are even wholly articulated; Mourning admirably doesn't reduce the fears jiggled loose by unexpected death to sentences, formulations that make sense. Instead, it ponders how nuanced and complex any connections can be, whether between strangers or between a long married couple. It's not for lack of compassion or history that such breakdowns occur, but rather, it's the nature of interaction, made of gaps as much as identifications.

A similar theme informs both Jim Gloster's Aphasia and Régis Wargnier's The Straight Line (La Ligne Droite). The first is a short film based on the experience of Carl McIntyre, an actor who suffered a stroke at age 44, and has since suffered from aphasia, which limits his ability to process language. The second movie looks at how hard it is to understand someone else's situation, in part because different experiences produce different expectations and different assumptions about what words mean.

In The Straight Line, a runner named Leila (Rachida Brakni) is released from prison and, in search of work, becomes trainer and guide for a newly blind runner, Yannick (Cyril Descours) (he's been in a car accident some six months earlier). She's sympathetic when he complains to her that his former coach "doesn’t get it," and that his family's efforts are ineffective. "Their pity, their awkwardness, the precautions they take only make me even more disabled," he says. This is fine, he's frustrated, and she nods, "getting it." But the movie can't leave it at that. "It's like being a prisoner," adds Yannick. Ding ding ding: you see exactly where this is headed.

Indeed, as Leila and Yannick are both pretty and around the same age, and also come from very different backgrounds (she's Algerian and underclass, he's wealthy and white), they're bound by formula to fall in love, and that's the film's primary shortcoming, its investment in this formula. That said, the scenes that show their training, details on how blind running works, are frequently fascinating, a disjunction that suggests there's a another, more original story to be told about this milieu.

The story in Aphasia concerns another sort of disjunction. North Carolina-based actor Carl McIntyre plays himself, and his first lines in the film lay out what's at stake: "People win the lottery every day. It's just that the game is never the same. The game keeps changing." His "life's lottery" was unlucky: since his stroke, he's struggled to make sense of causes and effects, accidents and fate. Aphasia has changed everything for McIntyre, as he recounts here -- with humor as well as a particular perspective. "I won the lottery when I was born, a massive hole in my heart," he says, as he reenacts his stroke, lying on the floor as his children hover over him, wondering what game he's playing at.

After his stroke, doctors give him a year and a half to be restored to "my original self" or remain caught up inside a body that knows what he feels and thinks, but is unable to communicate it. Trying to put together pieces of sentences - nouns and verbs, "little words," and abstract concepts -- he works dutifully with therapist (Tonya Bludsworth) and his wife, Elizabeth (Chandler McIntyre), who helps him to makes sense of life with three young children.

When McIntyre ventures out on his own -- for instance, when he tries to order a Frozee at a local drive-in -- he's thrilled to be understood, if only for a minute. "I stroke," he begins, "Not well talking." The girl at the window takes a breath and agrees to work it through, a process that goes well enough until she reveals that he'll have to choose from among some "21 of your favorite flavors." He sighs, tells her "Never mind," and she watches him drive off. While it shows such reactions to McIntyre, Aphasia keeps focused through his perspective. "You can get damn lonely when you're trapped in your head," he says, "and bored." The film illustrates the confinement he feels, in part by showing the world move on around him. As he struggles to catch up, he finds that communication can take many forms.





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