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Nervous Translation from the Filipino artist and film-maker Shireen Seno (a former stills photographer for Lav Diaz) is a challenging film for the head and the heart, difficult to decode and to respond to emotionally. The title does not really help: nobody is “nervous” exactly – anxious, concerned, yes – and “translation” doesn’t precisely describe what is going on. But, as a slice of life, as a direct transcription of a child’s-eye view of the world, it is intriguingly and lovingly detailed.
The setting is the Philippines in the late 1980s, just after the end of President Ferdinand Marcos’s two decades in power. Yael (Jana Agoncillo) is an eight-year-old girl who is often alone at home after school before her mum Val (Angge Santos) comes back from a hard day’s work. Val’s husband, Yael’s dad, is away working in Saudi Arabia and communicates by sending intense audio tapes that Yael covertly listens to, not quite understanding the very adult expressions of confessional yearning. Her husband’s identical twin brother, Tino (Sid Lucero), comes around, and Yael uncomprehendingly picks up on the tension there, too.
The rest of the time, she telephones her friend to do maths quizzes, or watches soaps with her mum. (In an ambiguous quasi-fantasy scene, the soap is shown to be filmed locally, and Yael makes a strange contribution.) She becomes mildly obsessed with a new Japanese brand of pen, which she comes to believe responds to people’s feelings: this, perhaps, is the “translation”. Touchingly, Yael has a tiny doll’s oven, in which a candle can be placed, and which she can use to “cook” tiny scaled-down meals – because her absent dad keeps saying how much he misses Val’s cooking.
There is a remarkable quasi-fantasy scene showing an entire child’s model of their apartment and the surrounding area: did Yael make that? Or imagine it? Is this what is happening in her head? An opaque, but beautifully composed film.
Source: The Guardian
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