Thursday, October 22, 2020

AFI Fest Spotlight: Sound of Metal

I’m delighted to be covering a number of selections from AFI Fest 2020. The festival runs October 15th-22nd, 2020, and films are available to watch online during that time.

Sound of Metal
Directed by Darius Marder
Festival Information

The loss of functionality can be devastating for any person and transform their life completely. There is a particular misery, however, that comes with those who depend on part of their body for their livelihood. In many cases, overuse of a particular organ or muscle may create or exacerbate the problem, and the only way to return to health – if that’s even possible – is to stop using it. It’s unlikely to be an easy decision, and the knowledge that senses may deplete completely has the potential to convince someone to experience it while they can even if that will only in time make it worse.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) is a heavy metal drummer who travels from show to show in an RV with his singer girlfriend (Olivia Cooke). When he begins experiencing hearing loss, he goes straight to a pharmacy and meets with a doctor. Told that he would need expensive cochlear implants to restore the tremendous loss that has already occurred, Ruben, who is also a recovering addict, reluctantly relinquishes his keys and his phone to immerse himself in a deaf community where he is supposed to learn how to live with his new reality.

This film’s subject matter is made exponentially more vivid by Ahmed’s portrayal of Ruben. He is passionate about what he does, and he sees his newfound situation as something he has to fix, as quickly as possible, regardless of what he might have to do to make it happen. He isn’t willing to listen to what others say, and has a particularly difficult time acclimating to the rules of the place where he comes to stay. He doesn’t want to be patient and slowly learn how to communicate in a new way, but instead just wants to get past this hiccup, not willing to admit that, as he’d told repeatedly, this change might be permanent.

Ahmed’s powerhouse turn is complemented by this film’s very effective use of sound. The silence that Ruben hears is indeed disconcerting, and when he does hear at certain points throughout the film, the audience is fully in the experience with him, receiving only distorted or muffled noises that he knows must not be complete. It’s a fully involved, immersive experience conveyed magnificently by Ahmed in a role that should earn him well-deserved awards attention. This film is not an easy watch, but it’s a powerful and deeply resounding exploration of loss and challenges.

B+

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