Dir: Juraj Lehotsky.Slovakia. 2008. 76mins.
A film its actors will never see, Blind Loves traces four blind people in theSlovakRepublicand investigates, in a seamless meld of documentary and fiction, how they experience love. Touching and original, this first full-length outing from documentary and music-video director Juraj Lehotsky works by unsettling the audience: the question of who’s acting (and how much) becomes tangled up with issues about the boundary between sighted and non-sighted perceptions of the world to intriguing effect.
The film’s quirky aesthetic and refusal to fill in conventional backstories for its four subjects will limit the audience, but this charming and thought-provoking curio could easily prove to be a hit on the indie circuit (in fact, sales at Cannes are already brisk).
The first story is that of Peter, a blind music teacher who lives with his blind wife in an apartment where the television is on much of the time. We see him coach his blind pupils in a music school where nobody bothers to turn the lights on when it gets dark; and in one of the film’s most gloriously bizarre passages, reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer, we see him walking in stop-motion animation under a watery stained-glass sea, where he has a close encounter with a cute animated octopus.
Next up is Miro, a blind, gypsy version of Tony Manero, who is desperately courting a partially-sighted girl called Momi, whose parents disapprove of the match. Elena, a young blind woman, discovers she is pregnant and frets about the fact that she will never see her baby - will she be born blind as well’ Finally we meet Zuzana, a pretty teenage girl who, despite her disability, attends a regular school. We see her messaging a friend on her computer, chatting about secret dreams and dream lovers. Later, the two of them get ready to go out on what, for Zuzana, appears to be a blind date with a sighted boy. The last ten minutes reprise the four stories and provide a feelgood uplift that is tender without being overly-sentimental.
What’s fascinating here is the tension set up by the question of how much of this is staged. Undoubtedly, Blind Loves offers a window onto the intimate details of a world that few sighted people ever enter. Watching Peter and his wife uncertainly clink champagne glasses in a toast at the end is both funny and moving; seeing Elena and her husband feeling the Christmas tree lights to see if they’re on is funny too, but it also makes us realise how important appearances are - even for people who can’t see them.
The camera is laconic and respectful, the lighting mostly sombre except for some delightful, pastoral outdoor scenes in full sun. As one would expect, music is a constant presence - from the quirky movie theme music that Peter improvises on his electronic keyboard to the stirring Tchaikovsky orchestral pieces (the Nutcracker Suite, the Romeo and Juliet Overture) that send romantically-inclined Zuzana into raptures.
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