Social services in Britain, as they do in most Western countries, go to some parents’ homes to check if the home is suitable for children to live in. It’s a visit that Bela (Lucia Moniz) and Joao/ Jota (Ruben Garcia) dread. They do their best to raise their three children, Diego (James Felner), Lu (Maisie Sly), and Jesse, even if they live in the Greater London as Portuguese immigrants with low income. Joao and Diego, doing their part, try to straighten up their home for the visit. But it seems too late to do that. A man finds Lu and Jesse hiding next to trash cans at the back of a convenient store where Bela has to shoplift to feed her family. Lu is hard of hearing and doesn’t have a working hearing aid, and a teacher finds bruises on Lu’s back.
This family, then, is on the verge of breaking apart. A social services agent brings cops to Jota and Bela’s door to take the children away. Listen, then, turns into a film about Bela and Jota trying to navigate a system. One that brands them as aggressive parents. One thing that’s undeniable about this film is Moniz’ performance as someone who believes that she’s a good mother. And for the most part, her actions matches her beliefs. It also seems as if the director and screenwriter, Ana Rocha de Sousa, is giving her actors the right amount of push. She does so without pushing them and most of the story over the edge towards. She steers the film away from the bad kind of proletarian melodrama. In fairness, it is difficult to behave around cops.
Rocha de Sousa’s screenplay rings true in most ways. It makes sense when Bela and Joao switch sides on being the slightly more responsible parent. During Listen‘s first act, Bela is the one telling Jota to make sure the place is ready on time for the visit. This changes when social services takes their children away though. By then, Jota is the one reaching out to an ex-social services agent, Anne Payne (Sophia Myles) to see if they can get their kids back. The film doesn’t do a perfect job of suspending disbelief at other times. For example, when both encounter the system that assumes that they’re guilty of abuse. It feels archetypal but then if a film portrays some characters this way, maybe what they’re showing is true.
Rocha de Sousa collaborates with fellow screenwriters Aaron Brokner and Paula Vacarro, and it’s interesting that the three of them can only come up with material long enough for a mid length feature. A longer version of this may give better insight to the other families enduring a wrongful removal of their children. But it’s understandable if factors like a budget factored here. It’s ok to make the film like this to have a smaller scope. A more appropriate nitpick would be about the title as it refers to Lu’s different abilities and how the system doesn’t listen to the children telling the system that they belong to their original home instead of a new one. But it’s just as plausible that the system doesn’t help the people it intends to.
Watch Listen on OVID.