October 31, 2014
Experiencing life in sign language
For the Herald
“Alejandra is a friend of mine from high school. She wanted to teach the blind, but the school for teachers of the blind shut down, so she became a teacher of Sign Language instead. She just wanted to teach and help. She’s a teacher, a friend, a mother... You could say she’s the one who protects the deaf in Bell Ville, the city in the Córdoba Province where I was born and raised. Showing her work, her commitment, her devotion is what I’m trying to do with this documentary. Among other things, I hope this film can be useful to grant official recognition to the school she founded with a group of parents some twenty years ago,” says Argentine filmmaker Ada Frontini about Escuela de sordos, her sensitive, truly emotive yet never sentimental opera prima that received the Best Director award at the Argentine competition of the last Mar del Plata International Film Festival.
Apart from a valuable document, Escuela de sordos is a smart film. There are so many things that could have gone wrong in this delicate enterprise, and yet there’s not a single misstep. To begin with, most documentaries that portray people with disabilities tend to be so politically correct that little is said apart from the official discourse we all know. They don’t address their singularities, they don’t see them as individuals. Most documentaries treat people with disabilities as though they were utterly needy and fragile by definition, and so they demand that a stronger voice speak out for them. Sometimes they even picture them as though they were babies in need of overprotective mothers.
Fortunately, you won’t find any of this in Ada Frontini’s respectable and respectful film. What you have here is a detailed account of some of the many steps involved in teaching the deaf, as though you were watching a class. Energetic and tireless, Alejandra, the teacher, the friend, and also the mother, dedicates her time to show others how to send a text message, how to improve their Sign Language skills, how to start from scratch, and, most importantly, how to have fun while learning.
Very lucidly, there’s no room for solemnity here. That’s why there’s plenty of smiles and laughs instead. There’s love, affection, understanding and communication. That’s exactly what happens when what matters most are the bonds between people. In a sense, this is also a film about fighting loneliness.
In cinematic terms, it’s equally interesting. Spoken and subtitled in Spanish, and also spoken in Sign Language, Escuela de sordos explores the very nature of language. Viewers get to witness entire conversations where not a single word is spoken, and yet it’s impossible not to feel they are conversations just like the ones you see or overhear in your daily life. It’s quite a surprise: a film about teaching deaf people that is most talkative, and in a very good way. You will surely get to know a lot more about a world that surrounds you and yet you almost never see.
Escuela de sordos (Argentina, 2013). Directed by Ada Frontini. Written by Pablo Checchi and Ada Frontini. With Alejandra Agüero, Juan Druetta, Joaquín Ferrari, Ivo Palacios, Juan Pablo Maidana. Cinematography: Ada Frontini. Editing Lorena Moriconi, Pablo Checchi, Ada Frontini. Running time: 72 minutes. At Malba, Figueroa Alcorta 3415. Sundays at 6pm.@pablsuarez