Listen, Ana Rocha de Sousa’s powerful first film about forced adoption, is heart-rending and almost unbearable to watch at times.
None So Deaf As...by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Listen shows a naturalistic fragment in the life of a Portuguese couple living in London – exhausted, frazzled Bela (Lucia Moniz, perhaps known in the UK as Colin Firth’s love interest in Love Actually) and Jota (Ruben Garcia) – loving parents of three children. Lu (truly deaf Maisie Sly), the middle child, is deaf and can only communicate in sign language. Films featuring deaf people or deafness issues seem to be in the limelight currently.
The family has fallen on hard times: Bela has to resort to shoplifting bread and milk from the corner shop to feed her family breakfast. So when Lu’s hearing aid breaks and needs replacing, it’s a tragedy they can’t cope with. Then, due to miscommunication with Lu’s teacher about bruises, social services (represented mainly by Brian Bovell) are called in. They forcibly remove the traumatised, crying children from their home, in a scene reminiscent of Brian Bovell’s seminal Cathy Come Home.
Although Listen valuably highlights a little-publicised aspect of Britain’s inflexible child protection laws, sadly director Ana Rocha de Sousa is no Ken Loach – although there have been comparisons her work doesn’t resonate widely and deeply as his does. Her film is one-sided and at times over-simplified, and does not manage to develop the issue of forced adoption against parents’ wishes into something universal.
Instead, and very powerfully, Listen focuses on the specifics of foreign parents in Brexit Britain who are not aware of its laws and who go to social services for help. Because they are in low-paying, zero-hours jobs, they find they have to defend themselves in the legal system to try and get their children back, cruelly complicated by only being allowed supervised communication with them in English, not Portuguese or sign language.
Listen – the title is full of meaning – relies on coincidence and a deus ex machina in the form of social services-gone-rogue Sophia Myles for a resolution. That said, the film is very moving and well acted, especially by Lucia Moniz: it’s a worthy campaigning tool.
Listen has won multiple festival awards and is released on 10 June 2022 in the UK.