It lost an Oscar bid for Best Foreign Language Film this year to Character, but the German entry Beyond Silence (Miramax) possesses all the attributes Academy Awards committees like in subtitled entertainment: a pretty child fighting strong-willed parents to create her own identity, a physical challenge, a gentle display of sexual stirring, and travelogue-bright photography. The twist here is that the child, Lara (Tatjana Trieb as a girl, Sylvie Testud as a woman), is the hearing daughter of deaf parents.
Those adults (Howie Seago and Emmanuelle Laborit) are a glowingly handsome, loving couple whose only flaw is in relying too heavily on their precocious daughter to serve as their interpreter in, and ambassador to the hearing world. So when Lara, given a clarinet by her father’s artsy sister, shows a talent for music—allying herself with the world of sound that leaves her parents behind—her dad, in particular, reacts with irrational anger, his hands speaking a torrent of resentment.
Beyond Silence opens with a romanticized shot of Lara watching her idolized aunt gracefully ice-skate (Lara’s mother has balance problems because of her deafness). The film itself occasionally skates awfully close to mawkishness, particularly in promoting the joys of music and the importance of father-daughter communication (any dissenters?). And as little-girl Lara turns into rebellious, teenage Lara—leaving her family for music school, falling into her first love affair—director-cowriter Caroline Link sometimes loses track of what exactly is at the heart of the developing musician’s internal conflicts. Still, there’s a very engaging personal lyricism to Link’s drama. It’s the quality that separates coming-of-age stories into two categories: after-school TV specials and Academy Award foreign-film nominees. B-