CODA Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Sixteen-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) lives in the small fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her entire family – father Frank (Troy Kotzur), mother Jackie (Marley Matlin) and brother Leo (Daniel Duran) – are deaf, they can only communicate in sign language. However, Ruby not only hears and speaks perfectly, but also sings very well.

The whole Rossi family is engaged in fishing. And since, according to the rules of safe fishing, at least one hearing crew member must be present on a fishing trawler, Ruby has to work on a par with everyone else: the family gets up at four in the morning and goes out to sea to return for breakfast, hand over the fish to the dealer, after which Ruby can go to school.

Ruby’s school is having a hard time. Firstly, in the classroom, the girl constantly falls asleep and this causes the anger of teachers and ridicule of classmates. Secondly, the school knows that all of her relatives are deaf, and this also causes ridicule: cute kids tease Ruby by imitating sign language. Thirdly, they know that the girl helps her parents to fish, and this is also a reason to mock her.

Ruby likes a guy from school named Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Pylo). Schoolchildren need to choose some kind of elective for classes, and when Ruby finds out that Miles is going to the choir, she also enrolls there.

The choir is led by a very mannered and eccentric Mexican, Mr. Berrrnardo Billalobos (Eugenio Derbez). He understands that Americans won’t be able to pronounce his name properly, so he suggests simply calling him Mr. V.

At the first lesson, Bernardo asks each of the students who have gathered for an elective class to sing “Happy Birthday to You” in order to understand where to place whom – in baritones, altos or sopranos. When it’s Ruby’s turn, she runs out of class, unable to control her shyness.

However, after a while, she returns, finds an understanding with the teacher and begins to study hard. And Mr. V likes the way Ruby sings so much that he invites her to participate in a song contest for admission to the prestigious Berklee College of Music. The girl, of course, is delighted with such a prospect, but, on the other hand, how can she leave her family, which simply cannot cope without her?

***

The original title of the film is CODA. This is a well-known abbreviation for the phrase Child of Deaf Adults, that is, the child of deaf parents. For the Russian show on the streaming service Apple TV +, they gave the name simply with the decoding of the abbreviation “CODA: Child of Deaf Parents”, and this, of course, is the right decision.

This film is the opening of the 2021 Sundance Indie Film Festival: as many as four awards in the Drama category (although, I note, this is not even close to a drama, this is a tragicomedy): Grand Prix, Audience Award, Award for directing and a special jury prize for the cast.

Add to that two more Golden Globe nominations and three Oscar nominations in 2022, which are sure to win something (interestingly, actor Troy Kotzur, who played Frank’s dad, was nominated for both awards, but there are no nominations for the main and undisputed star of this film – Emilia Jones), – and we will get an unconditional hit, the rights to show which the Apple TV + streaming service bought out for an absolutely record-breaking for indie movies (where the entire budget was clearly less than a million) $ 25 million, and they, apparently, they did not lose at all – the film breaks records for views for this genre.

When I read about all this meteor shower of awards and nominations, I decided to definitely see the picture. At the same time, I must say that I am not at all a fan of indie films (pictures from independent studios with small budgets, where unknown actors are filmed), but I treat them in the same way as I treat all other varieties: auteur cinema, mainstream, and so on. Everywhere there are decent films, there are excellent ones, there are very so-so films, and there are completely unworthy ones – regardless of how much money is spent on it, which actors starred in it and which studios participated in it.

There are indie films that I really love, but there are indie films that I just can’t stomach so much that I can’t even squeal, like this damn “Captain Dust East Fantastic”, which for me is straight- still the standard of the leftist kinish of the worst kind (there, a clear can, and a nomination for an Oscar, and a rating that goes off scale – in general, everything we love).

CODA is also a typical indie film, but I liked it. No, of course, the sharpness for Sundance, Golden Globe and Oscar was visible from a mile away, but the movie itself was very well staged and well played. Also, this sharpness in this case was not particularly associated with manipulativeness, which I really dislike, and here all these typical indie movie templates were built with a kind of disarming sincerity, which is usually captivating. I can forgive a sincere film a lot, but I will not forgive anything for a picture where everything is deliberately arranged so that the “girls will cry”, and the film academics, with languor in their chests, urgently ran to throw the picture with Oscar statuettes.

The director of the film is American Shan Heider. I don’t know what kind of fool in Russian film bases called her “Sian Heder” in the Spanish manner for some reason, but now everyone repeats this: in Kinopoisk, Wikipedia, reviews and so on. It is, in general, a common thing, but what prevents you from asking this name on YouTube and listening to how Shang Hader herself calls herself?

The director took the staging of this picture very seriously, so for about a year she studied the life of deaf people and the sign language, which she speaks well (which is clearly seen in the video, the link to which I gave above).

Also an important (for Americans) point: in this film, deaf characters are portrayed by deaf or hard of hearing actors – the absolutely wonderful Marley Matlin (probably the only deaf actress who has an Oscar for best actress in the film “Children of Silence”), and I really liked her here as mom, Troy Kotzur as dad Frank, Daniel Duran as their son Leo.

Emilia Jones as Ruby is absolutely wonderful. Great actress, very natural and touching. Emilia clearly showed what situation her character is in: she bears a huge burden of responsibility – she is the only interpreter-communicator between a deaf family and the rest of the world, she is bullied at school, she is a pretty growing up girl who was actually deprived of a normal childhood by circumstances, she is in love into a guy from school and she wants to sing, but what is it like to sing in the family, when there simply no one can understand what it is?

And there are some very touching moments connected with this, which I don’t want to talk about in the review, so as not to spoil it, it’s better to just watch it.

Mr. Ber-r-r-nardo Biyalobos (Bernardo Villalobos) at first seemed a little more mannered and eccentric than necessary, however, firstly, it was quite in the indie film paradigm, and secondly, Eugenio Derbez played him really well .

In general, although it turned out to be such a typical indie film, sharpened for Sundance, with its obligatory clichés and patterns in the development of character relationships, I don’t regret at all that I watched this film, and I think that it is quite worth watching – before just because of the excellent role of Emilia Jones and the interesting role of Eugenio Derbez.

Yes, I have a lot of complaints about him: some scenes seemed clearly superfluous and inappropriate, and the reason for brother Leo’s enmity towards Ruby was not disclosed at all, but a certain sincerity in the presentation and the importance of the topic under discussion – how deaf or hard of hearing people live , well, I was touched by the story of Ruby herself, who had a lot to share and who had to choose her future path in a very, very difficult situation.

And I gave this film a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

***

I wrote this review right after watching this movie. And then I studied various materials (I don’t always read them before writing a review, sometimes I read them after that – just to clarify some points) and found out that this is a remake (quite official, of course) of the 2014 Franco-Belgian film “The Linen Family” (La famille Belier).

Well, remake and remake, you never know how Americans make remakes, and often these remakes are noticeably superior to the originals – just remember James Cameron’s “True Lies” (Claude Zidi’s original film was completely passable, with all due respect to master Claude Zidi) and “Cage for little birds”, which is a remake of the Franco-Italian film La Cage aux folles, and I couldn’t finish watching the original, because the American remake is an order of magnitude better.

But in this case, before publishing the review, for some reason I still watched the Franco-Belgian film of 2014 and … And with great regret I found out that the original film was much better than the American remake, which was treated with a bunch of awards. Alas, yes. In the original, this is a simple but very nice film about a girl who lives in a family of deaf parents and a brother.

There, the family kept a farm, produced and sold cheeses – French, so to speak, specificity. The main character (her name was Paula) also helped on the farm, fell asleep in class, went to sing in the choir, and teacher Fabien Thomasson (played by Eric Elmosnino) persuaded the girl to try her luck at the vocal selection in Paris.

What did I learn from watching the original? The fact that everything good, interesting and touching in the American remake was taken from the original one to one. The story of the girl, her participation in the choir, the desire to try to become a vocalist, the visit of a deaf family to the performance of their daughter and how they perceive this performance (here I immediately remembered the absolutely wonderful film “The Sound of Metal”, where it was all shown much cooler), rehearsal daughter with a guy she likes, and most importantly, the performance at the competition, where the family came to support her – it was a great find (I will not spoil it), and Shan Hader carefully copied it from this little-known (in the States, but not in France) and Belgium, where the picture is very popular) of the film.

That is, she took all the best of what was there, but completely omitted a rather funny comical story about how the head of the Rodolphe family tried to become mayor of their town, where the current mayor was mired in corruption. This story in the original took up about a third of the film, but in the remake it was replaced with how a family of fishermen creates their own cooperative, and somehow there was nothing particularly interesting about it.

But I won’t argue with the fact that the American director noticeably enriched the remake with several jokes in a purely American way: how the head of the family tells the doctor that his balls itch insanely, and Ruby had to translate this (in the original, however, there was a similar moment, but it is made in a completely different key there); how dad farts at the table and explains to his daughter why it is normal for deaf people; how mom and dad started to fuck at the moment when Ruby is in her room rehearsing with Miles, and how after that dad explains to Miles, whom he sees for the first time in his life, that a guy must wear a condom if he wants to fuck their daughter. And then there’s the director who put on a completely idiotic story about how Miles blabbed all this at school and Ruby got into trouble again – what a cheap thing, honestly!

These episodes raised big questions for me when I first watched it, but I kept thinking: well, they came up with a good story, so, well, it happens, American humor: if no one in the entire film farts and complains about the balls that itch, is not a film at all, and not only for modern American comedies, but also for indie films.

And then I saw the original, which had all the beauty of the remake and didn’t have anything that I didn’t like about the remake, and I realized that director Shan Hader was just being cynical about the whole thing. She took a simple but very nice French film, transferred it to American soil, took deaf actors for the roles of deaf heroes, added all sorts of purely American fart and genital humor (well, like more sincerity), after which she blew all the awards. Well done, what is there. She did everything right. Real director!

However, this does not negate the excellent role of Emilia Jones, the worthy role of Eugenio Derbez, the very cool role of Marley Matlin and excellent song numbers. But the primacy of this film has greatly faded for me, because it is a remake, from where they took all the best and where they added a little purely American madhouse. (Also, by the way, Ruby’s conflict with her brother was not explained at all in the American version, and there was no conflict at all in the original.)

So why did I watch the original? Don’t know. But I did it and expressed my impressions. After that, this entire film, which was treated kindly by film awards, pulls me to a maximum of 6.8. The French and Belgians did better. It’s very simple, almost no one knows (in the States) and has not watched any awards for you (in France, however, there is one “Cesar” – it was received by actress Luan Emera, who played Paula) and even more so – 25 million from Apple. But better.

However, here it should be noted that the French and Belgians did TERRIBLE! They took quite hearing actors for the role of dad, mom and brother. There, for the entire film, there is only one actor Luka Gelberg, who played a cameo role of a hard of hearing character, who is really hard of hearing. And the rest are just actors portraying deaf people. And this caused a storm of indignation. But not in France and Belgium, where no one paid any attention to it. And in the UK, where a certain Rebecca Atkinson in an article in The Guardian stated that this circumstance is a direct cinematic insult to the deaf society, comparable to this terrible blackface, when white people allow themselves to portray black people.

But then in the States there was a director who corrected such a villainy. And as expected, she raked in a whole heap of the most prestigious awards and nominations, and at the same time she earned very little money. Bublik and I are happy for her.

That’s it.

By the way, the original, even if you are interested, you are unlikely to look. It was not released in the license, in torrents there is only one-voiced author’s amateur voiceover, which, of course, spoils the whole impression, and besides, God forbid, half of what is generally said is translated there. (I watched it in French with English subtitles, I’m such a pervert.)

Therefore, it is better not to read my lyrical digression, but to look at the American version, which, without knowing the history of the issue, looks pretty decent.

Sorry, as they say, if I didn’t offend anyone.

PS Here are some shots from the original movie.

CODA: Child of Deaf Parents /
CODA

Producer:

Shan Hader

Cast:

Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Pilo, Troy Kotzur, Marley Matlin, Daniel Durand, John Fiore, Lonnie Farmer, Kevin Chapman, Amy Forsyth

Tragicomedy,
USA-France-Canada,
2020,
111 min.

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CreativeJamie
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