Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

dimanche 9 avril 2006

You Me Deaf, Keychain, and Dietro il Mondo

Last Friday I was treated to a trilingual, bicultural feast in the form of three films. The first two were brief productions from LightKitchen, René Visco's company, and the third was a feature-length Italian Deaf film produced by Daniele Le Rose of DeafMedia. All three films had English subtitles, hence the third language.

The first film was You Me Deaf, which, frankly, is... I can't say much nice about it. It is a song signed by Jennifer Visco. The action consists of Jen in a black fur coat, black top, and shiny red vinyl pants, gyrating in a most unattractive way. It reduced me to a spate of giggles, both mortified and "this is just too ridiculous." I have to say, though, that I loved the message it conveys about how we Deaf people need to come together and work together, regardless of our differences. Sara Stallard of the Tactile Mind gave this piece a rave review. (scroll down after clicking the link to read her review) I agree with her about the need for more Deaf films, but not this. Then again, all genres have their masterpieces, their good works, and their, well, crap. The good news is that it only lasts a few minutes.

The second film was an improvement and a vast relief to me. Keychain is set in Philadelphia and it is centered around a Deaf man's encounter with an ABC card peddler. This ten-minute-long flick takes us to a bar, (Gooskis, owned by René's brother, by the by), where we encounter a young urban white middle-class Deaf couple. They have a lively, heated discussion about the moral value of SSI/SSDI. The female argues that SSI is terrible, because it encourages dependence and sloth. The male argues that SSI is not bad when it is used to support one through college and it is more subtle than peddling ABC cards. She disagrees, saying that both are equally bad because they shape public perception of Deaf people. This discussion began because a man put a keychain attached to an ABC card on their table. When the peddler comes back to hopefully collect money, the man lights into him, scolding him for peddling. The resulting dialogue reveals that the peddler is Slovakian, and he came to this country illegally. He has a pregnant wife/girlfriend and he has tried and tried to find a job, but without a green card, he just can't find work. The man remains solidly unsympathetic, and the discussion ends with him grudgingly forking over a couple of bucks and the peddler saying, "You me deaf same, you me friends" and leaving. After that, the man becomes tortured by his unyielding rejection of the peddler and wondering what would have been if he had simply let go of his principles. He fantasizes about being friends with the peddler. The film makes use of a novel voice-over technique where a black and white shot of the person voicing over is superimposed on the action and you see the black and white person signing the narrative. This piece, while not wonderfully edited, raises interesting points about peddling, SSI/SSDI, and challenges us to question where the line is, if either is ever okay and to define what situations warrant peddling and what situations don't. (Insider info: the keychain is blurred out in the film because it is a picture of a Disney character, which would have invited a humongous lawsuit from Walt's successors.)

Dietro il Mondo was a joy to watch in comparison. Le Rose's creation takes us to the university in Padua and introduces us to Andrea, a first-year student, and a small group of Deaf students. It chronicles his first few months at the university, his in-class experiences, and his interactions with the other Deaf students and with the Paduan Deaf community. This film appears to be a real family affair, with Stefania Le Rose playing the lead female role of Elena and Luigi Le Rose playing the Italian Sign Language (LIS) interpreter. The ending has a rather odd twist which is easy to miss, but if you get a chance to see it, keep in mind during the whole film - what is Carla's motivation? The ending will make more sense if one keeps that in mind.

One criticism of the film, however, is the temporal discontinuity that manifests itself at times. A demostration in Rome is mentioned and it is to happen the following week, but it does not happen until after a title card showing "a few months later" has appeared and more time has passed. Also, it is clear that several months pass, but it always remains cold and characters are always dressed very warmly. Otherwise, while not in the league of Citizen Kane, this is a cute, interesting, and enjoyable film.

This was a fascinating, enjoyable film to watch. The pacing and set-up are so different from American films. It is very slow, with the emphasis being on character development rather than the plot, which is typically European. There are many cultural messages in this piece as well. For example, there are frequent discussions about problems with interpreters at the university. During one discussion, Andrea proposes getting the deaf association involved by providing classes and training. Elena retorts that while this is a wonderful idea, it is going to take years and she needs interpreters now. Another instance occurs when Andrea is anxiously awaiting his turn for his oral exam. Andrea asks the interpreter if the interpreter can voice the right answers even when Andrea is wrong or when he does not know the answer. The interpreter says in beautiful Italian signs that his job is to facilitate communication. He gives Andrea his voice and he gives the professor his signs in order to help them communicate. That is his role and he can do no more than that. While this does not always happen in real life, this is the ideal and what *should* happen in classrooms everywhere. Different examples of interactions with hearing people are also shown, mostly unvoiced. One thing that illustrates European urban culture is the frequent use of bicycles for travel by the characters and by other people.

There are quite a number of cultural differences between American Deaf culture and Italian Deaf culture that are evident in the film. While in America Blackberrys and Sidekicks are ubiquitous, in Italy, they depend on cell phones with text messaging (SMS). Apparently when the phone is plugged in, it does not vibrate, and people run the risk of missing messages. The university does not provide alert lights nor other communication devices. Andrea brings his own alarm clock, but he has no other devices. Two men, who are roommates, excitedly show off their new signal lights very late in the film. One thing that appalled me was when Andrea goes to his first class, he sees this man sitting in front of the room, so he approaches him. The man indicates that he is the interpreter, then proceeds to tell Andrea where to sit, explaining that this place is what works best. He does add that Andrea could move elsewhere and tell him where to sit, but the tone is very paternalistic. That does not happen here in American colleges (at least in my experience). Another interesting difference is that here in America, first and last names must be fingerspelled, along with a demonstration of the name sign when meeting new people. In the film, it shows university students fingerspelling only their first names then giving name signs and other local Deafies not bothering with fingerspelling at all, simply exchanging name signs.

While Italian Deaf people appear to be behind America in terms of technology, there are many similarities between the two cultures. Both groups of people are experiencing problems with the limited number of qualified interpreters. Andrea's interpreter is a person with Deaf parents. They talked about the term "CODA," which they borrowed from America. The film makes it clear how the Deaf are collective by showing their need for togetherness and how they share information. Another similarity is the relationship between "grassroots" Deafies and more educated Deafies, with its attendant frisson and their role in translation of the majority language. One elderly gent at the local Deaf club scolds a few university students, telling them going to school is a total waste of time and they should be working. Later in the film, after Paolo has helped him translate a letter and advised him on what to do, the man tells a group of university students that they need to stay in school so they can achieve great things for the community.

The two signed languages are quite different, but there are clear similarities as well. Both have subject-verb agreement implemented in similar fashions, both use space in much the same way, and both use classifiers. There are a small number of cognates. LIS appears more similar to French sign language (LSF) than to ASL, but all three languages have features in common.

I recommend this film for the opportunity to observe another Deaf culture and language, but the story held my attention as well. Part 2 is apparently coming. Hopefully it will bring a resolution to the odd ending in Part 1.


  • At 12:25, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Hola! This is Jennifer Visco, nice comment. I'd love to meet you in person. Ciao!

  • At 00:57, Blogger moi said…

    *sweet smile* Hi, Jennifer! I'd love to meet you in person too. I hope my review was not too personally hurtful.

  • At 08:05, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    This is Jennifer Visco again, I still dance like that in the clubs here in Pittsburgh and it helps me talk to people they understand me thru my dancing and it is tasteful now I have my tatoos to talk about too.
    I am not annoyed at your comments at all, people all over get jealous at me. Ciao!

  • At 08:31, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    u crazy fool ciao!Disco

  • At 11:13, Blogger moi said…

    Hi again,
    That's cool. Dance is definitely one form of expression. It's great that you find that dancing works for you.
    I'm not sure what the third comment is all about...?
    Thanks for commenting - I really appreciate it. I wrote a new entry about our conversation at:
    Thanks again. :)

  • At 10:26, Anonymous Anonyme said…

    Hey, thanks. here's my blog, and enjoy. www.jennifervisco.wordpress.com and I dunno who did the third comment either!

  • At 12:06, Blogger moi said…

    =D Hiya! Thanks - will check it out!


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