Short Film Review: Motus (Not A Word)
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
This is the second of my 'petite' reviews of short films in competition at this year's 11th edition of My French Film Festival. You can read my earlier review of Anthony Lemaitre's Entracte (Intermission) here.
You'll be pleased to know that the Short Films portion of the festival is free to watch online until February 15, although a festival pass only costs €7.99 and gives you access to a diverse range of feature films as well, so I would highly recommend pursuing that option.
TW: abuse. I'm always fascinated by the choices made when French film titles are translated into English. I imagine sometimes they're changed because the current title already has an existing English language counterpart, or because there is no literal or cultural translation for the sentiment, but in some instances I'm left scratching my head.
In the case of Élodie Wallace's Motus (Not A Word) I wonder if it's more to do with U.S. audiences who might confuse it with POTUS or FLOTUS? I'm not sure. I like the original title because in French motus means to hush or be quiet, while in Latin it refers to forward motion or being troubled. In both instances this works perfectly, but something is lost in the translation to Not A Word. I guess, if we take it at its most literal, there's simply 'not a word' in English for it.
But I digress ... This isn't an essay about etymology, or the nuances of translation (although I suspect these are threads I'll return to in future), but rather a deeper exploration of this impactful short film about a survivor's attempts to confront their abuser and gain some kind of closure.
As someone who is close to people who have gone through a similar thing, and encountered abuse myself as a child, I can very much relate to the quest Alice (Sarah Suco from Call My Agent!) is on. Many people carry these horrors with them throughout their entire lives, and struggle with finding the opportunity or courage to confront their abuser. Everyone's journey is different, so it may not be necessary for some, but in the case of Alice she thinks it is - and that's where our story starts.
Alice has learned that her abuser is in hospital, taking what may be his last breath, so she goes there in an effort to make him acknowledge what he's done. Of course, hospitals are large and confusing places, and it takes longer than expected to reach her end-goal. Along the way she finds herself caught up in misplaced aggression - leading to a moment that unexpectedly provides some of the comfort she's looking for - as well as being confronted by the embodiment of the innocence she once lost.
There's a scene where Alice shares an elevator with a young girl (as seen on the film poster) in which nothing is said, but everything is conveyed. More than any other scene, this was the one that captured the theme of silence for me, and it seems to have had a similarly profound impact on Alice as well. She's not just there to confront her own abuser, she's there to protect and represent all the girls who should never have to go through this kind of thing.
When she finally does reach her destination, the results are not as anticipated, but we're led to believe she finds her closure nonetheless. Although her abuser may have been the intended target, perhaps there were others who she needed to acknowledge it more? I think this is something a lot of people could relate to, and it makes the short film all the more powerful for this implied resolution. I know in my case I was fortunate the right people recognised what was going on before anything more could happen.
It's no wonder this film is filed under the True Heroines portion of the festival. Sarah Suco, as Alice, gives a wonderfully understated performance that suggests little on the surface, but provides a clear window to her interior life. You see what she sees, feel what she feels, and she becomes a literal point-of-view character as you start to experience things through her eyes. It's really Sarah's film on that front, although there's a wonderfully wordless performance by Olivier Perrier, who conveys so much with so little in his brief scenes.
One aspect that deserves special mention is the film's original score by Angelo Foley. It's so powerfully atmospheric and immersive without being intrusive or making you feel manipulated, and I made a special effort to look for the composer's name in the credits at the end. Reading between the lines, I'd say it supports and conveys the story writer/director Elodie Wallace is trying to tell without being a distraction - which is exactly what a good soundtrack should do.
Not A Word is a keen reflection of the inner turmoil survivors of abuse often go through - especially when things are hidden, and their attempts to speak out are suppressed by those around them. It's only now, in writing this final portion of the review and thinking about that point, that I realise the other meaning of Not A Word ... It's the same phrase used time and time again to cover up or conceal abuse, and in recognising that I'm hit once again by this powerful film. This one's gonna stick with me for a while - and for that I'm very grateful.