SIFF Review: To Speak

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Let not our wounds of the past haunt and create distrust among us but bind us stronger in times of adversity, so that we can fight for a better future.

To Speak may initially present itself to be a seemingly distant story about Cambodia. However, the overall message that it communicates is relevant worldwide – you choose the life you live.

Based otospeak4.jpgn a true story, To Speak brings into perspective the struggles of a young teenage Cambodian girl, Ratana. She may have not lived through the Khmer Rouge, but in the village she lives in, the episode haunts the stubborn, older generation. Their acceptance that they lead cursed lives has led to a vicious cycle of poverty in the village for the past three generations.

As each day passes on for Ratana, she begins to develop hopes for a better life when she sees the surrounding villages becoming more developed. A proper home to live in becomes her motivation to seek out more avenues of income for her family and leads her to an organisation called Tabitha.

But like anyone who chases a dream, obstacles are abundant. For Ratana, her obstacle was the entire village. They ridiculed her and tried to dissuade her from starting a savings account with Tabitha. Of course the biggest challenge was from her mother who constantly chided her and saw no sense in her dreams.

tospeak5.jpgAt the end, Ratana’s dream of having a better life proved to be infectious and through her, the entire village took it’s first step out of poverty.

The part-narrative, part-dialogued film may carry a simple storyline with not so fantastic acting yet there were rather emotional moments for me. I think, definitely, the whole idea of having hopes and dreams, and chasing (or in some cases, not chasing) them is something that everyone can relate to. It brings back poignant moments of the difficult times and sacrifices that had to be made as well as the fruits and happiness that eventually accompanies those dreams.

Being a sucker for well-thought of endings in films, I felt Craig did a good job in bringing imperfection into the picture, which made it a lot more realistic for me. The entire film portrayed Ratana as a very determined and persevering girl, despite being ridiculed and chased out by her mother. At the end, after her mother passes away due to poor health, she finally breaks down and doubts all that she has done. The line that really hit me was when Ratana said, “I’m so tired.” Thankfully, Craig tied up the five minutes of doubt for the protagonist with a display of human spirit by the villagers which I admit, sent a tear rolling down my cheek and injected hope back into Ratana and myself.

tospeak3.jpgThere could be many times that we give up or run away because of fear and doubt, like Ratana. But realising that there are people who are there to back us up, like Ratana’s siblings and finally the entire village in the film, should be a reason for us to face the music. Afterall, we can’t run away from life itself.

To Speak, as a tool to empathise with the people who went through the Khmer Rouge probably didn’t work as well as the film being one that demonstrates Kampong Spirit and overcoming adversity. But after all that is said, it serves as a stark reminder as to what we plan to do with our lives. If one little girl can do so much with so little, what more us who has been given more?

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