Venice 2020 Orizzonti

“Money doesn’t ever substitute love in this life”

By Kaleem Aftab

09/09/2020 – VENICE 2020: We talked to Portuguese actress turned director Ana Rocha de Sousa about her film Listen, centred on a struggling couple fighting to retain custody of their deaf daughter

Ana Rocha de Sousa accepting her Venice Lion of the Future award at the Venice 2020 Closing Ceremonies for the best debut work at the festival.

Following a successful career as an actor, Ana Rocha de Sousa is making the transition behind the camera with some aplomb. She moved to the UK to study film at the London Film School and her first feature film, Listen [+], is playing in the Orizzonti section of this year’s Venice Film Festival. The film tells the story of a Portuguese immigrant couple forced to defy the British social services to keep their family together and protect the wellbeing of their deaf child. 

Ana Rocha de Sousa at Venice Film Festival

Cineuropa: What was the genesis of Listen?
Ana Rocha de Sousa:
 I heard about some Portuguese families going through forced adoptions in the UK, so I started to do some research, hoping to understand what was happening and why. What I discovered, I found very disturbing. It was then that I knew I wanted to make a film about it because I felt it was really relevant and important. Then with producers and co-writers Paula Vaccaro and Aaron Brookner, we compiled everything we could. At first, the research was mainly online. Later we managed to connect with some associations.

There is some criticism of adoption services in the film. How willing were they to talk to you?
I don’t think that I’m taking a very critical position. My desire was always to define the different points of view, to try to understand where the system fails and to ask: why does it fail? Because it fails, it happens that there are several truths, and all these viewpoints might all be valid. At a certain point, you have to choose what you say as a filmmaker. For me, there’s a shade between right and wrong. You have some ambiguity around the family for a while and then you understand that the system fails, but you also understand why the system is behaving like that.

You also made the important decision to use a deaf actress, Maisie Sly in the role of the deaf child Lu.
To me, Maisie is an angel. I think to others too. She’s an incredible young girl and it’s absolutely incredible what you learn when you are directing her. I’m not able to communicate with her very easily because I don’t know much British sign language. But it’s incredible how souls connect without verbal communication. I would love to have her in many, many films and I’m very glad to have had the chance to work with her.

Did you look for a deaf actor for the role? Was that important to you?
Maisie was suggested to me by production. We had the script and we had this deaf child in the story, and at some point, she was suggested to me. Once I saw her work, I wanted her for the role.

In the film, you explore the fact that some of the rules describing what makes a good parent are tied into the financial position of the parent.
That, I think, is where I get critical. I think money doesn’t ever substitute love in this life. I’m not saying the system is taking children away because of money, but yes, there is a level of poverty that becomes very difficult. I believe that when you have love in a family and when you have the support of social services, it should be support, it shouldn’t be provoking separation. Separation to me should be the ultimate response in a situation like this, only occurring when you are one hundred percent certain that children are at risk.

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