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'Moonlight Sonata' a masterwork

Film festival lovers are always looking for THE masterwork, not just of the festival but perhaps of the decade, something so deeply moving that it becomes a signal creation, a defining moment of the times — and such is “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements,” the Opening Night Feature Film at this year’s Ashland Independent Film Festival, which began Thursday and continues through Monday.

Produced and directed by Portland filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky, this documentary beautifully takes viewers through the terrifying reappearance of a “gene typo” in her family tree that causes deafness.

It’s a gritty, sometimes painful, always intimate walk through the deafness of her parents, who live close by and are getting old — and her eldest son, Jonas, who starts losing his hearing as a toddler. It’s heart-wrenching to see the boy going deaf, but Brodsky is right there with her camera, and modern technology is, amazingly, right there with cochlear implants.

The devices work. Jonas gets back on track and is obsessed with learning “Moonlight Sonata,” a hauntingly beautiful piano classic composed by Beethoven as he was going deaf. How could he possible do that? The music lived in his mind, not his ears, and that’s something Jonas can appreciate.

Over and over, the film lifts your spirits with hope, possibility, the enduring will to survive, and creativity of the human heart, especially when the boy’s piano teachers, one a grandfather from the dad’s side, endlessly coax and cajole him, not just to hit the right keys but to tap into depths rarely known to children.

As she explained from the stage after the show, with her sons and parents present, Brodsky intended to make a film about her son regaining his hearing and performing the great sonata — but her father comes to play a major role as he slides into dementia and has to stop driving.

This amazing footage happened spontaneously. She happened to have the camera and lights set up as he sat down and announced something is not working in his brain and he can’t make the computer operate anymore. It’s not rehearsed and it’s not acting. She even gets the shots of him failing tests with the doctor and DMV. It’s touching — and this is the vital young man who, she says, invented the TTY, allowing deaf people to text on phone lines.

“It was a painful, awkward shift to start filming it,” she said. “It was live and it was a big moment.”

From the stage, Jonas joked that his implants “are like a superpower. I can turn them off (and be deaf) whenever I want.”

In “Original Sin,” set in Paraguay, an aristocratic young couple toils in a boring marriage with a stultified, non-kinky sex life, but the woman longs for the kink. It’s comical, yet Fellini-esque as the woman takes delivery of a gigantic, bawdy, Picasso-esque painting, delivered by the artist, who happens to be a comely young swain — and, needless to say, body-contact games ensue, then the husband comes home, right in the middle of the clutching, groping and smooching.

Where can the story go from here? Anger and stomping out? Far from it. The offended aristocratic male gets nowhere with his officious, dominating behaviors, as the woman’s rage and blooming feminine power (and playfulness) must out. It’s bizarre, loopy. Standing up for his male honor, the husband challenges the lusty painter to ... badminton.

“Original Sin” is fun, entertaining. It flirts with fleshly allures but shows none. The three actually start running human potential therapy games and role playing on each other. You have to let go of reality here. Does the woman finally get the kink she longs for? Well, yes and no. It’s complicated, just like love. Baggage happens, but love and lust also happen. And in the end, baggage must surrender.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Photo by Sophia Miller Irene Taylor Brodsky presents “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.”
From "Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements"