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by Nicolas Philibert (Director)
Kino Video, 1994
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Nov 28th 2006

In the Land of the Deaf

Released in 1994, In the Land of the Deaf is a documentary by Nicolas Philibert featuring deaf people living in a French town. We see school children, young adults, families, older people, and couples getting married. Some of the families are mostly deaf, others are mixed, and some have just one deaf person. There is no commentary, and the film has a strong anthropological feel to it, as we simply see people in their ordinary lives or being interviewed about their lives. There are subtitles for the French speakers and the deaf people speaking in French sign language.

It turns out that French sign language is different not only from American Sign Language, but also from those of other European countries. We see deaf people interacting with hearing people, and finding ways to communicate. Some discuss how they were mistreated as children, and some with partial hearing discuss what it is like being forced to speak rather than use sign language.

Viewers get more of a sense from this documentary of some of the subtle nuances of tensions between deaf and hearing people, and the camaraderie among the deaf. Often the film is silent because the person being interviewed is using sign language, or we see deaf people signing to each other; this is so unusual for a film that it enhances the feeling that the day to day experience of deaf people is profoundly different from the hearing. One person relates an experience of putting in a hearing aid for the first time and finding the experience profoundly unpleasant because the world was so noisy, and he felt relieved when he was able to take the hearing device out.

Being over 12 years old, this film is a little out of date since it says nothing about cochlear implants, but one can watch Sound and Fury to learn more about that. While Sound and Fury is an excellent documentary, it is completely dominated by the controversy over implants, while In the Land of the Deaf is a gentler film with a very different pace. It can be viewed many times, and the viewer will find different aspects to appreciate each time. The fact that it is about French people makes the experience of watching it especially interesting for non-French hearing people, because we are led to wonder how much the cultural differences between us and the subjects of the documentary are due to their being deaf, and how much are due to their being French. In this very understated way, then, the film provides an argument for seeing deaf culture as a culture.

 

2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.