Cast: Angge Santos, Cocoy Lumbao, Jana Agoncillo, Sid Lucero
NETPAC Award, 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam
Official Selection, 2018 Hong Kong International Film Festival
Yael is a deliberate, careful child. She has a miniature stove, fueled by a tea candle, where she cooks perfectly sliced beef, ginger, and carrots into micro-meals. But the world around her, late 80s Philippines, is mysterious and completely out of her control. With tremendous empathy and attention to detail, director Shireen Seno’s NERVOUS TRANSLATION is a study of scales, from the extremely small to the international, and the fragility, calamity, and wonders looming at every level.
As Yael fills out workbooks from school, the People’s Power movement erupts, items from the future (or is it Japan?) appear on TV, huge rains fall, and periodically, her father’s voice arrives on audio tapes mailed from across the world. This feels all the stranger because Yael’s father’s face is around all the time – his twin brother being a constant friendly presence in the house. These are not strictly a child’s problems. The handsome twin brother is confusing for Yael’s mother too, and NERVOUS TRANSLATION’s strength is its sensitivity to how a constant slippage between comforting normality and complete disaster is part of adulthood as much as childhood.
NERVOUS TRANSLATION is Seno’s second feature, following her dreamlike debut Big Boy (SDAFF ‘13). Here she moves from that film’s gritty Super 8 photography to a gorgeous, subtle style – perfectly tuned to small miracles, like the halo of static electricity that hangs, for just a few seconds, in front of a turned-off TV.
– Lev Kalman