In the Land of the Deaf | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

In the Land of the Deaf 

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This extraordinary 1992 French documentary by Nicolas Philibert, which plunges the viewer into the world of deaf sign language, required Philibert to rethink such basic documentary techniques as framing, editing, and sound recording and mixing. All the sign language is subtitled in English, but the text seems to offer only a fraction of what's being said: the men, women, and children are so expressive and personal in their beautifully orchestrated gestures and facial expressions that few professional actors could match them. Part of what's so wondrous here is the spectacle of sign language itself, but equally fascinating is what's being said about the language and its possibilities. (One of the teachers, himself mute, notes that whenever he travels to a foreign country it always takes him a couple of days to learn the local sign lingo; after that he and the locals can converse freely.) By the end of this film one feels that people who communicate in sign language are capable of expressing things--and expressing them in ways--that are beyond our grasp. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 13, 4:00, and Sunday, August 14, 2:00 and 6:00, 443-3737.

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