Review: The Boy Who Stopped Talking (1996)


The Boy Who Stopped Talking (1996)

Directed by: Ben Sombogaart | 104 minutes | drama, war, family | Actors: Erçan Orhan, Halsho Hussain, Brader Musiki, Husna Killi, Louis Ates, Rick van Gastel, Heleen Hummelen, Peter Bolhuis, Han Kerkhoffs, Shielan Muhammad, Han Oldigs, Lava Sulayman, Cecil Toksöz

Mohammed, or as everyone actually calls him Memo (Erçan Orhan), is a Turkish Kurd of about ten years old. He leads a quiet life in Turkey, where he lives with his mother and sister. His father lives and works in the Netherlands to support his family. However, when the situation for the Turkish Kurds suddenly deteriorates, his father decides to transfer Memo to the Netherlands, together with his mother and sister, for their own safety. However, Memo does not agree, he is in love with his homeland and does not want to leave his friends and family behind. To express his dissatisfaction, he decides not to talk anymore from the time he left for the Netherlands.

‘The Boy Who Stopped Talking’ from 1996 is one of the first films by Dutch director Ben Sombogaart, who would later be responsible for ‘Abeltje’ (1998), ‘Cruise in Jeans’ (2006) and ‘De Storm’ (2009). It is also one of his better productions. The film gives an interesting look at the life of an average foreign family that has been forced to live in the Netherlands and the impact this move has on the family and in this case especially the son Memo. Memo cannot and does not want to adapt to his new living environment. Only his peer Jeroen (Louis Ates), whom he meets in primary school, seems to really care about him and tries to help him on his way in his new environment, however difficult that is because Memo remains rigidly silent.

Although it initially seems like ‘The Boy Who Stopped Talking’ is a children’s film, this turns out not to be the case. The subject of the film is really too serious and too politically sensitive for that. Because even though the film does not delve too deeply into the political situation of the Kurds in Turkey and a clever scene at primary school in the Netherlands clearly explains to children what the situation of the Kurds looks like, it still remains a spicy subject. The further story of the problems that the family encounters in their new living environment is also fairly serious in nature, making it more of a drama film.

It is certainly admirable that director Ben Sombogaart manages to make something beautiful of ‘The boy who stopped talking’ with an almost entirely inexperienced cast and a difficult subject. However, the film is certainly not perfect. While it is very interesting and understandable in the beginning that Memo refuses to talk, this becomes slightly irritating towards the end of the film. Mainly because there are some situations where it’s just weird that Memo stays silent. He does not really know how to bind the viewer to himself. Also the typical Turkish music, which is very well hit especially in the beginning of the film, the part in Turkey itself in particular, is used a bit too often towards the end, so that the intended atmosphere-enhancing effect is gone. In that respect it is a pity and also unnecessary that the film ends up killing itself a bit. Still, despite these flaws, “The Boy Who Stopped Talking” is an interesting film that provides a good look at the lives of immigrants.

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