The Secret Life Of Words

2006, Movie, NR, 115 mins

Review

SECRET LIFE OF WORDS, THE
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Spanish writer-director Isabel Coixet's second collaboration with actress Sarah Polley (following 2003's acclaimed MY LIFE WITHOUT ME) carries an important and timely reminder about the fate of torture victims, so deftly wrapped within a touching and beautifully acted melodrama that the result is the furthest thing from a didactic message movie. European factory worked Hanna (Polley), who's hearing-impaired, works in a pulling large rolls of industrial twine from spindles and stacking them on a forklift — a dreary, repetitive job she seems content to perform. Hanna's silence, the bizarre regularity with which she eats the same precisely apportioned lunch (chicken nuggets, a scoop of white rice and one half of an apple) each day, and her habit of tuning people out by turning off her hearing aid puts her coworkers on edge, and after working 10 years without a vacation, her supervisor (Reg Wilson) insists she take a month's break. Hanna chooses to spend her holiday in a rainy, out-of-season seaside town, but after a day or two with absolutely nothing to do, she offers her services to a stranger whom she overhears talking on his cell phone. There's been a terrible accident on an offshore oil rig; one man has been killed and another seriously injured, and nursing care is desperately needed. Hanna, it turns out, is a nurse. Once s on board the rig and apprised of her patient's situation by the company doctor (Steven Mackintosh) — the survivor has been severely burned and temporarily blinded — Hanna finds herself among a skeleton crew of men who, like herself, prefer solitude and isolation to human companionship. The rig's supervisor, Dmitri (Sverre Anker Ousdal), tells Hanna work has been halted until the company decides whether or not it will be shut down, and the eerie quiet only adds to a pervasive sense of life in limbo. But Hanna's patient, Josef (Tim Robbins), seems to appreciate company, even if his new nurse won't engage in small talk. Hanna refuses to disclose her name — she allows Josef to call her Clara after he tells her an anecdote about a 15-year-old boy who falls in love with a nurse with that name — or where she's from; while her heavy accent suggests Yugoslavia, she speaks so little it's difficult to tell. Soon, however, the carefully maintained wall she's constructed to keep the world at bay begins to crumble: Hanna allows herself to sample the gnocchi prepared by the rig's gregarious chef (Javier Camara), and even asks Martin (Daniel Mays), an oceanographer, about his work with mussels. Finall, she opens herself to Josef, and her true identity comes sharply into focus. Polley once again delivers a terrific performance, and Robbins, who spends most of the film bandaged and bedridden, hits a career high. The real value of the film, however, lies in its final moments, when Josef travels to Copenhagen to learn the full details of Hanna's life. Far from feeling that we've been hoodwinked into watching a film with a strong social message, we can only marvel at how eloquently and incontrovertibly it states its case. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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