Film Scouts Reviews

"The Quiet Room"

by Karen Jaehne

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A tour de force by Australian director Rolf de Heer, "The Quiet Room" is about a seven-year-old who refuses to speak. Her parents are your average squabbling, discontented couple whose conflicts hurt their child far more than they could ever guess. By making us privy to The Girl's every thought - ranging from childish wonder to some profound moral insights - de Heer reveals an intelligence that adults don't suspect or simply don't want to deal with in their children.

The production design of the movie edges over into the idealization of TV-series - you know, the staircase and couch and child's room off somewhere away from the main theater of family drama. The parents are plays in a slightly stilted way - again, it's subtle, because it's the way The Child sees them.

Everyone around The Child tries to get her to talk - shaming her, conning her, tricking her, but she's on to all of it, and the actual triumph of this film is to show how she realizes her power. The manipulation she's capable of is amusing and enlightening - yes, children are as crafty as they can be. Of course, they learn these lessons as part of self-defense.

Another of de Heer's correct observations is her innate sadness. When conflicts encircle a child, and she's confused by the hot-and-cold behavior of parents, she retreats. Here, as the parents are yelling at each other, "I make my own peace." Her neediness to play - and adults are either too busy or too sad themselves to play - speaks out against only-children. We seldom see her in the company of other children. She seems to be the taffy in a taffy-pull of power between The Father and The Mother.

I don't particularly like the ending. The Girl wants a dog and to move to the country. And they do, and that's that. It feels a little pat, but many people endorse happy endings, so I'll shut up.

The performance of Chloe Ferguson is absolutely astonishing. When she's afraid of monsters, we are fearful. When her face lights up from tickling, we want to take her in our arms. I think this ought to be a film on every parent's shelf - just to remind us they are watching - and understanding more about us than we are about them.

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