Since August is a groundbreaking film in which most of the sparse dialogue is in American Sign Language with some English-language captioning. It takes hearing people into the world of the deaf. During various portions of the film, we must rely on our eyesight alone to interpret the actions and motives of the people we encounter.
This Indy movie by writer/director/producer Diana Zuros features Azerbaijan-born Sabina Gyulbalaevna Akhmedova as Elizabeth and American-born deaf actress and advocate Antoinette Abbamonte as Vedette.
The story begins with Elizabeth, who squats in an abandoned apartment with just a mattress on the floor, using binoculars to track the movements of Vedette, who is old enough to be her mother. As we watch Elizabeth spying on Vedette through the windows of their facing apartments and following Vedette at a discreet distance during her daily routines, we wonder why Elizabeth is doing this.
We watch as Elizabeth discovers that Vedette is deaf, and as she subsequently goes about teaching herself sign language via an Internet course so that she might better understand her quarry.
Mournful cello music by Polish composer Maciej Zielinski accompanies portions of the film, and we see that Vedette sometimes carries a cello case on which the word “August” is imprinted.
We also follow Elizabeth to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, so we come to understand that she is a recovering drug addict.
Clue by clue, the story builds towards an encounter between the two women, eventually to be followed by the denouement of their relationship.
Elizabeth’s long hair mostly obscures a tattooed inscription on her neck. Viewers easily can make out the Hebrew letters ‘chet’ and ‘lamed,’ but not enough of the sentence is visible for comprehension. Filmmaker Zuros, in an email exchange, told me that the Hebrew lettering quotes a Roma proverb: “Bury me standing as I’ve been on my knees my whole life.” She said that actress Akhmedova chose the inscription while researching the part of Elizabeth.
At 105 minutes, it is a long film and its step-by-step approach to storytelling may cause frustration for those who are used to tumultuous action and quick plot resolution. But for those fascinated by how this medium can help us experience the quiet, vision-centered world of the deaf, the film is a rewarding experience.
This film is novel in the way that it is being distributed. You can watch it for free on YouTube and on other platforms. Zuros says in an introduction to Since August that she trusts that her movie’s viewers will reciprocate her faith in them with financial donations to recompense the cost of production.
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