Still image from Nervous Translation

Review: Nervous Translation

This review is provided Lindsay Michiels  from our  Open Call for Film Critics & Writers


REVIEW: Nervous Translation
dir. Shireen Seno
2019 | Philippines | 90 mins | PG

Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translationis a thought-provoking yet vague film on a child’s perspective of the adult world.

Focusing on eight-year-old Yael, the film follows the girl’s daily life as she navigates her way through her shyness and distant mother.  Yael spends her days cooking miniature meals, doing math quizzes with her friend over-the-phone, and listening to the tapes her absent father sends from while he is away in another country for work. Life in the Philippines in the late 1980s was not an easy time.  With President Ferdinand Marcos stepping down from power and tumultuous weather hitting hard, Yael’s absent father is not the only thing their family has to worry about.

Nervous Translation instantly transports the viewer into Yael’s home – a beautitful setting. The meticulous designed sets stand out transporting the audience into the lives of Yael and her mother, Val. The attention to detail shows the love and care the filmmakers went into making this project, which translates easily onto film.

The scene and sound editing work brilliantly within the themes of the film, highlighting important aspects of Yael’s life, whether it is her father’s tapes or the sound of her pencil on her notepad.  It also provides a stark contrast between Yael’s quiet, contained world and the wildly loud one outside her home.  It serves as another reminder of how orderly Yael strives to keep her life, while still being greatly influenced by the things around her.

The acting in the film is truly one of its high points. Jana Agoncillo endears herself to the audience as Yael, perfectly conveying the confusion, shyness, and loneliness of an only child trying to interpret adults and their worlds. Agoncillo displays refined acting, perfectly suiting her character.

Her mother Val, played by Angge Santos, mirrors this distance.  Santos expertly shows the contrast between her home life with Yael and the more outgoing visits with her extended family.

Although the endearing Yael is a joy to watch, Nervous Translation occasionally leaves the viewer scratching their heads. It comes at times when the film’s subtly, unfortunately, falls into incomprehension, losing what the viewer expects the story to be.  It portrays Yael’s life but without giving any closure to its story.  Does her father come back?  Does Yael listen to all the tapes?  Do Yael and Val survive the flooding?  With an uncertain ending, Nervous Translation leaves the audience with even more questions than the story had already provided.

Ultimately, Nervous Translation is a lovingly crafted film. Although at some points ambiguous, the film transports audiences into Yael’s life and her struggles to interpret the world around her.

Interested in seeing this film? Reserve your tickets for Nervous Translation here!