La vida secreta de las palabras (The Secret Life of Words)

Movie posterI have a feeling this may be one of those movies like The Goddess of 1967, a movie people will either love (for its beauty) or hate (and claim it’s hollow trash that pretends to be intellectual).

La Vida is a movie that’s largely based on an oil rig. An explosion has occured, killing one guy and badly injuring a man who tried to help. The problem is: where can you find a nurse that wants to work on an oil rig?
Enter Hanna Amiran, a deaf girl who has worked in a factory for four years without taking a day off. Now Hanna has been forced by the unions to take some time off. Hanna, seemingly unaware of what a vacation is, books herself a stay in a shabby hotel and is eating Chinese food when she overhears a man who’s working for the oil company: “Where can we find a nurse that wants to work on an oil rig?” Hanna goes up to him and says: “I’m a nurse.”

Hanna is not the most social person in the world. That she’s deaf is helpful: if she doesn’t want to communicate she turns off her hearing aid.
Which makes her an ideal person to work on an oil rig: the captain, the cook, the biologist… all of them are pretty introvert. The thing is: when a new person is brought to the oil rig, they do want to have some social contact. But not Hanna.
She’s even less revealing to Josef, the man she has to nurse. Josef is badly burnt and because of the fire has lost the ability to see for a couple of weeks. Not being able to see anything, he wants to talk the whole time. Which seems to upset Hanna. She tells him his name is Cora, she lies about the colour of her hair…

Throughout the movie you’ll see the secretive layers of Josef and Hanna peel off. And all of it will come to a painful climax long before the movie ends.

One of the other people on the oil rig is Simon (Daniel Mays of Funland), who’s sent to study the waves violently bashing against the rigs. In his own time he also studies mussels (which are affected by the pollution) and hopes that one day when the oil has been pumped out of the sea the rigs will be used to make the water cleaner.
That is the bit that makes me feel some will dismiss this movie as pretentious nonsense. Hanna’s history, which I won’t reveal, is also a heavy subject. And yes, maybe this movie wants too much, but Coixet does manage to find a setting to make her story work and enough setting to back it up convincingly.

Maybe the movie ends a bit too positive, but after what we’ve heard it’s okay to lose reality and dream for the best.

Polley and Robbins are very good, as are the rest of the supporting cast.
The childish voice-over you hear at the beginning and the end of the movie has raised a couple of questions on internet fora as to which character it is. Some of the comments on those fora made me want to see the movie again. Sadly, it was taken out of my local cinema after a week, so I’ll have to wait.
Unless I suddenly find money and can import it, because La Vida Secreta de las Palabras is now available on Region 2 DVD in Spain (DVDgo). There is also a Special Edition available.

It’s hard to describe this movie: when I explain the set-up to a friend he added “and then shit happens?”. No. The shit has happened. What we’re watching is the after effect. Which makes it hard to talk about, but interesting (in a voyeuristic way) to watch.
The best (and possibly the only) way to describe this movie is by using one word: intense.

La vida secreta de las palabras (Spain, 2005)
R: Isabel Coixet
with: Sarah Polley, Tim Robbins, Julie Christie, …
9/10

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