"Beyond Silence," by German director Caroline Link, bears lyrical testament to the ties that bind families and how they are severed.
The fact that this absorbing drama is played out in a family in which a hearing daughter tries to disentangle herself from the dependence of her deaf parents heightens the story's poignancy but in no way narrows its focus. It is a universal coming-of-age story, made unique by its distinctive setting and warm, true-to-life characters. "Beyond Silence" will resonate with anyone who has had passing experience with the contradictions of love and separation, especially adolescents who may be experiencing those contradictions' first pangs.
As her parents' liaison to the hearing world, Lara (played as a child by the ravishing Tatjana Trieb) is a moxie operator, mediating between them and their bankers with the business acumen of a corporate lawyer -- and even manipulating her position a bit when it comes to parent-teacher conferences. Theirs is a functional, loving family. Lara's mom and dad, Martin and Kai (Howie Seago and Emmanuelle Laborit) are hip, attractive parents and ensconce their daughter in a bright, cozy and often bittersweet world. "What does snow sound like?" Martin signs to his daughter while watching a blizzard. It's a profound moment, at once intimate and insular, pointing out the close universe the three have created together.
But as Lara grows, the symbiosis of her relationship with her parents begins to chafe, especially when her aunt Clarissa (Sibylle Canonica) comes into the picture. Stylish, beautiful in a big-city way, Clarissa -- who became estranged from Martin when the two were young and so never learned sign language -- encourages Lara to foster her love of music and learn the clarinet. In time, Lara's passion for music -- as well as her attraction to Clarissa and her desire to move from her parents' rural cottage to the big city -- will bring her family to a painful but inevitable turning point.
The hearing-impaired and their loved ones will no doubt welcome such a positive depiction of the deaf, who live full and loving lives in "Beyond Silence." But even more welcome is how Link gracefully weaves that point into the film's larger picture, which is a portrait of a young woman finding herself.
Lara -- played as teen-ager by Sylvie Testud -- might have been defined as her parents' translator as a child, but as "Beyond Silence" unfolds, we see her coming into her own in a variety of roles: older sister, niece, musician and even lover (her partner in this circumstance is played by the very appealing Hansa Czypionka).
Whether or not Lara's parents will accompany her as she moves beyond silence is the central question of "Beyond Silence," but the movie's most lasting effect is the depiction of a young woman willing to move on, with or without them.
Starring Sylvie Testud, Howie Seago, Emmanuelle Laborit, Sibylle Canonica
Directed by Caroline Link
Released by Miramax Films
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated PG-13 (a scene of sexuality)
Sun Score: ***
Pub Date: 6/26/98