Bela (Lúcia Moniz) and Jota (Ruben Garcia) are Portuguese immigrants living in England with their three children. One of those children, Lu (Maisie Sly), is deaf, and her cochlear device isn’t working properly. When a miscommunication between Lu and her teacher occurs, the British social services intervene and become worried about the health and safety of the three children. Listen, directed by Ana Rocha De Sousa, tells the story of the family’s struggles as they do all they can to stay together and fend off all these horrific accusations.
Moniz exceeds all expectations, as she is incredibly talented. Her grip on the emotional core and stability of her character is impeccable. She never fails to deliver every line with great vigor and passion. To be completely honest, Moniz is what holds the drama together; her acting keeps viewers invested in the story. As everything transpires regarding her and her family, the weight of what is happening rests firmly on her shoulders as she is asked to bring each emotional moment to life. She delivers beautifully.
There is obviously a barrier between most audiences and the sign language used by Lu and others. De Sousa does something genius here, and it resonated with me as I watched Listen. She allows the confusion viewers will have regarding what Lu is saying and that character’s way of not understanding others to mirror each other. That parallel between her and those watching is brilliant. Rather than look at this aspect of the film as something holding the production back, it is used to forge bonds between the audience and characters on screen. While Moniz is truly spectacular from beginning to end, this aspect is what shines brightest.
For all the good present, writers Paula Alvarez Vaccaro, Aaron Brookner, and Ana Rocha De Sousa’s screenplay is infuriating in some ways. While the goal is to make viewers angry at the horrific scenarios Bela and Jota find themselves in, some aspects feel fabricated. Sure, cinema sometimes requires a bit of exaggeration to get its message across. Still, given the severity of everything transpiring, these scenarios must be as realistic and believable as possible. I’m certainly no expert on the protocols of British social services, but I struggle to fathom a situation in which they intervene, and a family receives similar results to the ones seen here.
Quite frankly, by the end of Listen, I found myself scratching my head, wondering how in the world this could actually be the finale. I was lost, struggling to find words to express my disappointment, but I’m not sure it’s possible to express my frustration accurately. Seeing the closing moments for oneself is the only way the anger I felt can be understood.
There is potential within Listen, particularly regarding Lúcia Moniz, as she steals every scene. The director understands what it takes to get viewers invested, but she throws that away in the finale. There were certainly moments that I loved, but the overall film fell short and ultimately left me disappointed. It is worth watching if you can remind yourself that the characters, rather than the story, are the most important aspect of the film. De Sousa has potential, but I don’t believe Listen accurately showcases her ability.
Listen screened at the 2021 Lighthouse International Film Festival.
"…Moniz exceeds all expectations..."