In 2010, Ina Holmqvist and Emelie Wallgren’s documentary Kiss Bill was selected for IDFA. This year these two young Swedish directors returned to the Nordisk Panorama with The Quiet One (2011). According to the directors at the press conference: “For some time we had wanted to make a film that shows the world of younger children, where you’re involved in the play as it takes place and where adults don’t intervene and control the children with questions and sorting things out.” The Quiet One deals with 6-year-old Maryam, an Iranian refugee, whose parents have moved to Sweden. There, in a Stockholm suburb, children from all over the world go to school to learn Swedish.
The documentary takes around 30 minutes and during this time we have an opportunity to see the first few weeks of Maryam’s schooling. She’s the last to arrive and so is behind other children in terms of language and some necessary social skills. Maryam is an outcast in the collective of her mates but not just because of the language barrier. Several cultural differences play their important part as well. In one special scene we see Maryam getting extremely unhappy. All the kids in the kindergarten suddenly start to speak about their Christmas experiences. What they did and mainly what presents they got. Sometimes she lashes out, quite violently, in response to this. But she desperately wants to be a part of the group; she needs to find her unique place in the confusing world. To get some appreciation, she desperately follows the popular girls in class who rarely have any time for her. It’s not until the end of the film that we see she may have made a true friend, in an interesting way.
We can also watch The Quiet One as an unintentional sequel to Sidney Meyer’s documentary of the same name from 1948. Meyer’s movie (nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award) follows the rehabilitation of a maladjusted young boy Donald with flashbacks to his neglected and abusive home life. In the process of comparing those two documentaries, we can observe the important shift which has occurred during the last fifty years. The two main characters are sympathetic young children who can’t fit into their social circle and both struggle to adapt to a foreign climate and culture. But the different race is not the main issue for either of them. While Donald’s difficulty is his situation at home, for Maryam (who has a loving family) it is the inability to speak the local native language. Language is shown here as a crucial tool which shapes your identity and also plays an important part as in instrument of superiority. On the other hand there are plenty of scattered pieces of true childhood delights.
The Quiet One is a fascinating portrait of one girl without exploiting her in any way. But on another level it is much more than just a single story of a child who has a harsh time at school. The significance of the film is in the powerful depiction of the effect the current world problems have on the environment of innocent children, but without being too warm-hearted, which intentionally changes the meaning of reality. The camera is held low to mirror Maryam’s own experience, together with great editing that manages to express every one of single child’s feelings. By one cut, you can almost see into children’s minds.
Even though the film depicts very young children, this is not a children’s movie at all. The film reminds us how different cultures connect and interact and how hard it is to be a child in an inimical land. It shows us the hard way of searching happiness in total quietness.
Ondrej Sloup, The Czech Republic