QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Inspired by a true story, this international co-production between Albania, Portugal and Greece is another addition to a string of recent films about hearing disability, including this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner CODA (Sian Heder) and last year’s nominee Sound of Metal (Darius Marder). And this is no ordinary movie. A Cup of Coffee and New Shows On has a lot to say and to add to the disability debate. The topic of total deaf-blindness is virtually uncharted territory in the cinema world.
Thirty-something-year-old twins Gezim and Agim live on their own in an unnamed Albanian town. Gezim’s girlfriend Ana often visits them. Despite not being deaf, Ana speaks Albanian sign language. Agim does not have a partner. They work at the local woodcutter and conduct a mostly normal and functional life. Then the devastating news strike: Agim is suffering from an irreversible degenerative disease that will quickly lead to blindness. And the condition is genetic. This means that it is just a question of time his monozygotic brother Gezim develops the same condition. Agim is the first one to find out, but he does not share the life-wrecking news because he wishes to protect his brother.
Gradually, Agim loses his titular ability to make coffee and to tie his shoelaces. His brother wants to help him to go to the toilet, but Agim rejects his offer. He wishes to retain his dignity. Not being able to carry out some tasks on your own can be very degrading, you will learn from most disabled people. The real heartbreak begins when Gezim begins to lose his sight. The realisation happens during a very intimate moment with Ana. Both brothers become increasingly scared of the dark future ahead. The doting Ana moves in order to help her partner and her in-law. The tacit question, however, remains: how long will she manage to carry such a heavy cross? In this profoundly tragic and also very tender story, the three protagonists are genuinely compassionate and affectionate people
Gezim and Zim eventually develop the ability to communicate through sign language by touching each other. Those are the film’s most moving sequences.
It is remarkable that neither one of the lead actors is either deaf or even Albanian. In fact, real-life identical twins Rafael and Edgar Moraes are Portuguese, and they received Albanian sign language coaching. Both performances are superb, and you’d forgiven for thinking that they are indeed deaf and indeed Albanian. You can’t blame the filmmaker for not casting deaf actors: finding deaf twins would have not been an easy task.
Albanian director Gentian Koci is extremely respectful and never exploitative of his characters, allowing silence to prevail throughout the film. There is no music score, only a couple of diegetic songs to which Ana dances (Gezim briefly joins her movements, despite not being able to hear anything). There is no elaborate sound design, the director instead choosing to focus on the performances the subtle storytelling devices. Ultimately, it is silence that prevails. Such quietness is so respectful that not a single one of the roughly 15 to 20 journalists that attended the press screening either stood up or uttered a single word as the completely soundless credits rolled in their entirety (about three minutes). It is only after the lights went on that first person budged. This is indeed a story so absorbing that it will leave you speechless.
A Cup of Coffee and New Shoes On is showing in the Official Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.