Review: Speechless (2017)

Speechless (2017)

Directed by: Hilde Van Mieghem | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Marie Vinck, Hans Kesting, Viviane De Muynck, Flor Decleir, Stany Crets, Seppe van Groeningen, Rik van Uffelen, Lilian Keersmaekers, Frédéric Van Overmeeren, Daniel Daeyaert, Achiel De Smet, Marc Simons, Paul Goris

“Mothers never become human again. Mothers remain mothers.” The Flemish film ‘Sprakeloos’ (2017) opens with that beautiful quote. The Belgian actress and director Hilde van Mieghem (known for the romkom ‘Smoorverliefd’ from 2010, which was given a Dutch remake of the same name three years later) dared to adapt the highly acclaimed autobiographical novel ‘Sprakeloos’ by her compatriot Tom Lanoye. In his book Lanoye describes in his own way the fate that befell his mother. After a stroke she slowly deteriorates before the eyes of her husband, children and grandchildren. Because Lanoye writes from his own experiences, and he broaches universal themes such as the sadness, worry, frustration and anger of people who are forced to let go of a loved one and knows how to describe them in the most beautiful language, ‘Sprakeloos’ is an intense experience for many readers. and unforgettable reading experience. Imagine translating such a book to the silver screen. Van Mieghem succeeds in capturing the emotions in a striking way, but here and there also makes choices that turn out less well.

Josée Verbeke (beautiful, brave role by Viviane De Muynck) may be in her mid-eighties, but she is still a proud, present woman. In the amateur theater company in which she plays, she always makes sure that she attracts the most attention. She is not the easiest for her husband and children. Especially her youngest son, famous writer Jan Meerman (Stany Crets), can do little good in her eyes. He’s always so busy, lives against her will with a man (Hans Kesting) and rips through the city on what she sees as life-threatening motorcycle. But then Josée is struck by a stroke. Not only does she get confused and have to be admitted, she’s also lost her speech. And that’s not nothing for a woman who always has her word ready. Jan is also completely out of balance due to the event. The deadline for his new book is fast approaching, but Jan does not get a meaningful word on paper. He quarrels with his friend, possessed himself in a bar and constantly sees images from his past. How his parents met – her father, the former butcher’s son Roger (played in the younger version by Flor Decleir), who is so full of the self-assured Josée (Marie Vinck, director Van Mieghem’s daughter) that he stays despite numerous rejections persevere – but also their years as young parents and the tragic accident of Josée’s beloved eldest son Guy. He realizes he has to write his next book about his mother; the ultimate way to honor her. In the meantime, he tries to be there for her as much as possible during the last months of his mother’s life.

The film version of ‘Sprakeloos’ is initially supported by a strong cast, with De Muynck, Crets and Rik van Uffelen as the older Roger in the lead. De Muynck has a physically very challenging role; she deteriorates, her bodily functions falter and she can’t get out of her mouth more than a little babbling. The powerful, proud woman of yesteryear rears its head every now and then. Towards the end we see how much Crets and De Muynck are absorbed in their roles. For example, when he can no longer bear to see his mother in a dirty diaper for far too long, and he changes her with his own hands, as best as he can. Or if he helps her get her makeup. The feeling and love that radiate from this will leave you speechless for a moment (yes, that pun is intentional). They don’t need many words; The images speak for themselves. With his father, Jan also has some touching scenes. Van Uffelen is particularly convincing as the man who, after all these years, is still head over heels in love with his wife. Even though she no longer lives at home, he still kisses her photos very lovingly good night every night. The film automatically evokes associations with Michael Haneke’s masterpiece ‘Amour’ (2013), but that comparison is flawed in many ways. Not only because that film is much more layered and oppressive than this one, but also because of the clumsy way in which the past and the present are intertwined. Jan sometimes literally runs into the young version of his mother. Stylistically, Van Mieghem still has a lot to gain.

Despite these flaws, Hilde van Mieghem has cleverly translated Tom Lanoye’s novel to the silver screen. She owes her a great debt of gratitude to her cast, who at times play sublimely. Because it is the protagonists who know how to convey the urgency of the book – the universal theme of learning to deal with the loss of a loved one – to the audience, and who manage to strike just the right emotional chord with their convincing playing.

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