‘Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements’
Playing in the U.S. Documentary competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 90 minutes. No more festival screenings scheduled.
With great sensitivity and an eye for touching moments, filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky again mines her family — and how it handles deafness — in the moving documentary “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.”
This movie is a sequel to Brodsky’s 2007 documentary “Hear and Now” (which also played Sundance), in which she chronicled how her deaf parents, Paul and Sally, made the decision to get cochlear implants so they could hear. As this movie starts, it is Brodsky and her husband’s first son, Jonas, who is the recipient of the family’s deafness gene, and by age 4 he has lost nearly all of his hearing.
At that point, his parents decide to get Jonas the cochlear implant surgery that his grandparents didn’t get until later in life. Youth is Jonas’ advantage here, and within a couple years his voice sounds like that of a hearing child. He also gets back a love for music he started to show before his deafness showed itself, and he takes piano lessons.
At age 11, Jonas hears Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and becomes determined to learn it, even though his piano teacher tells him it’s a difficult piece. This prompts Brodsky to analyze deafness through three people: Jonas, deaf at a young age but now hearing; her father, who lived with deafness most of his life but now able to hear; and Beethoven, whose deafness isolated him but allowed him to hear the music in his head and put it on paper.
The results are intimate and beautiful, as Brodsky chronicles Jonas’ progress, her parents’ journey, and (through gorgeous animation) Beethoven’s torment. There’s also a third-act reveal that raises the emotional stakes even further, once again showing that the fates are the best screenwriter.