RUIDO (NOISE) (PM) Puerto Rico / 2006 / 35 mm / Colour / 100 min / Dir.: César Rodríguez, Cast: María Coral Otero Soto, José Rafael Álvarez, Blanca Lissette Cruz, Francisco Capó, Teófilo Torres Franchi, a teenaged girl suffering from a rare hearing disorder, is sexually harrassed by the man who suddenly enters her mother's life. She decides to fight back. No holds barred.
That’s what the World Film Festival description says, and that’s what the movie’s about. But it’s also, and even more so, about a teenage girl who is in many ways more mature than either of her parents, yet who is (like so many children) held hostage to their choices. This is one of those stories where – benign or malicious, it matters not one bit – the adults are as good as absent. Or actually, it many ways it would be better if they were absent…
Having read the Festival’s description, i was expecting a straight-up sex abuse story with a vengeful twist. What i saw was both more and less than this, for in Ruido the molestation that protagonist Franchi suffers is really just the final straw, the sign of how bad things have gotten, after her useless father is thrown out by her alcoholic mother. What this movie is far more about is the powerlessness of childhood, the way in which families can play the role of social infrastructure, and what happens when this infrastructure breaks down.
There are no major surprises to this story, or at least none which are essential to the plot. Both the mother and especially the father’s character evolves nicely. What did strike me – and i’m not normally the kind to be wowed by such aesthetic concerns – is the use of sound to convey Franchi’s emotional state. She suffers from “selective attention disorder,” so in stressful situations she will zone out everything except the smallest inconsequential noises. Not only does this fit into the plot and provide the audience with an entire extra dimension of insight into how Franchi is feeling, it also effects the audience in that way that sound does. If you’re one to notice stuff like this, Ruido really does make wonderful use of noise.
Politics? Well, all the politics here are those that are implicit in a family splitting up and mommy hooking up with a child molester. The entire movie takes place in Puerto Rico, but there is no text or subtext about colonialism here, and no explicit anti-patriarchal critique. But in a clear if unspoken way, Ruido shows us a girl confronting her need to rely on her own devices, to take matters into her own hands or else submit to rape, as the adults in her life range from predatory to well-meaning but useless.
WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD!
Ruido ends abruptly – as matters escalate, Franchi brings things to a head, attacking her abuser with a butter knife. When that fails, she poisons him. This quick resolution, which ends the movie within ten minutes, should have been drawn out way more; it left me thinking “Huh? That’s it?”
I realize i may have been spoiled by the superheroine-style Hard Candy (which i can’t recommend enough, for those who can deal with psychological torture and on-screen castration), but when the description said “no holds barred” i expected to see the rapist suffer some. As i already knew Franchi was going to fight back, the only surprise was that it all took place so quickly and easily. Anti-climatic, in fact.
(Personal admission: when seeing movies like Hard Candy and Lady Vengeance, with rapists tortured and killed on-screen, i have wondered if i was not missing a problematic if not reactionary celebration of sadism as a candy-coated substitute to justice. I have wondered if on a societal level such a reliance on cruel punishments for rape might not encourage patriarchal attitudes and ways of dealing with conflicts, no matter how dramatic or even emotionally gratifying. But then this movie rolls around without any of that over-the-top vengeance, and i’m disappointed…)
Nevertheless, the story of a young girl killing or maiming her abuser is obviously a positive role model. And it is an option that real children do take every year – perhaps not the tens or hundreds of millions of children around the world who are being abused, but certainly hundreds or thousands of them. That’s why it’s such an obvious story-choice, because we know that this happens. Rarely, but really.
Of course in real life when women or children fight back against their abusers, they don’t normally get to ride off happily on their bicycle!
According to USA Today between 200 and 300 parents are killed by their children every year, often teenagers who are striking back against their abusers. (The article also notes how even according to the Just Us system’s own numbers almost one in every two women who kills her male spouse was a victim of abuse – nevertheless 75%-80% of them were convicted… the same rate as female defendants in other homicide and serious felony trials who were not battered.)
If the screenwriter wanted to end things with the abusive stepfather so quickly, then giving a more realistic ending, with at least the hint of a police investigation or some kind of “what happens next” would have worked better. Not only “artistically,” but politically too.