British short film The Silent Child was screened on BBC One over Easter and is therefore available to catch up for a limited period.
Written and directed by former Hollyoaks stars and romantic partners Rachel Shenton and Chris Overton, the featurette tells of a young deaf girl who struggles to communicate. That is until specialist teacher Joanne rocks up.
Shenton was inspired through her own family’s experiences. She was 12 when her father lost his hearing after a course of chemotherapy. As a result, she learned sign language and became a qualified British Sign Language interpreter and ambassador for the National Deaf Children’s Society.
You may have seen her signing her speech on Oscar’s night (after the glorious announcement it had triumphed in the Best Live Action Short category), promised so superstar seven-year-old Maisie Sly, who beat 99 other children auditioned nationwide for the title role of Libby, could appreciate what was being expressed. She herself is profoundly deaf. She was in Los Angeles for the event.
Shenton and Overton subsequently hope to turn their successful short into a feature-length film, which makes sense as this feels like a promising taster at the moment.
Shenton also stars as Joanne, who engages in an educational tug of war predominately with Libby’s mother, who always has too many other demands on her time and reacts through fear and helplessness, despite her daughter’s progress with her willingness to interact.
We witness a busy home with Libby increasingly side-lined, her family assuming she is keeping up with their conversations. Joanne’s patience and encouragement make an incredible difference, yet there is a reluctance to embrace ‘alien’ sign language, which is giving her such confidence.
Right now you applaud the call to action – for recognition of sign language in schools, which hits hard before the end credits – more than the artistry of the mini movie itself. However, at 20 minutes, it is worth a watch and if it grows in size and stature, will have space to explore the complexities and frustrations and triumphs of the relationships a little more deeply and meaningfully.
Cut now to Coco, which somehow manages to be life-affirming and death-obsessed all in one hit. And that, it transpires, is curiously not a bad thing.
I don’t mind a Mexican Day of the Dead trope, but this took it to an altogether more beautiful and significant experience beyond the colour and the trumpets and the sugar skull masks and sombrero clichés.
A kid called Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez – Google him; what a cutie and how excited is he about this first major role, which includes the singing?!) lives in a small town with his extended family, including his ancient great-grandmother Coco, poignantly on the cusp of succumbing to dementia.
Miguel dreams of becoming a musician like his hero Ernesto De La Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), who became a screen star and recording legend before being crushed to death by a falling stage prop bell in 1942.
However, thanks to the scallywag nature of Miguel’s great-great grandfather, music is anathema in his household and therefore the boy looks set to follow in the footsteps of recent relatives into the cobbler business.
Coco’s father has been torn from the family photographs – deeply important we learn when it comes to the annual Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos, when the dearly departed come back for a visit.
A cosmic quirk of fate transports Miguel to the Land of the Dead and he is then on a mission to seek a blessing to pursue his destiny with his guitar.
His sidekick for this journey is Héctor, whose body has a habit of collapsing and reforming with a xylophone clatter.
This gorgeous film offers a lesson in Mexican culture as well as wider messages about love and respect, memory and mortality and the power of music. Plus, there is a warm hug coming in relation to heritage and those who are out of sight, but not out of mind. And as long as that is the case, they will always stay alive.
There are lots of Pixar genius additions – Toy Story and Monsters Inc piñatas, Finding Nemo toys, The Incredibles film posters and a nod to Steve Jobs with an old Mac ‘devil box’ computer in the Department of Family Reunions. If you wait for the credits, late friends and family of Pixar staff are remembered in a touching tribute, a virtual ofrenda (Day of the Dead ritual altar).
Ernesto De La Cruz’s most famous song is ‘Remember Me’. It is all charming and undoubtedly memorable.