Contemporary World Cinema
Sibel, directed by Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, is a film that will foster fruitful conversation about how disability is represented within it. The heroine has enough survival skills to compete in the Hunger Games, is mute, and faces adversity from an unaccepting village, and later, her own family. Ultimately, the film ends on an unfinished note, and with Sibel’s life at a crossroads. Your satisfaction with the film will depend on whether you feel that the conclusion resolves enough.
Sibel, played by Damla Sönmez, is a force to be reckoned with. For the first half of the film, she is constantly moving, prowling, searching, working, usually with her shotgun on hand or nearby. She lives with her mayor father and her aspiring socialite sister. Both mayor and socialite are loose terms, to be fair, since the Turkish mountainous village they reside in is rather small. Sibel communicates by using a series of whistles – which only her family and a select few villagers can understand.
Your first test as a viewer is whether you can buy the fact that Sibel’s whistling vocabulary is as extensive as the others’ vocabularies. Her whistles are subtitled, so your ability to understand them is not hindered. This is both a pro and a con – her disability (or her unique ability) is easily negated with the same subtitles used for other speakers – which means, perhaps, less work is required to appreciate her unique perspective. As events transpire, Sibel comes to interact with a wanted fugitive who has fled the draft. He quickly picks up the whistling language and within only a few days, he is able to understand concepts such as “wolves” and “bones,” which, to be honest, we didn’t cover in my ASL classes for a long time.
Inconsistent plot holes aside, the film excels in showcasing the village’s attitude of exclusion towards someone who is different. As opposed to stereotypical films about disability, which may attempt to encourage assimilation or “triumphing over the disability,” Sibel simply will not fit in regardless of what she does. Eventually, her difference will lead to the family facing social exclusion as well, which they then take out on Sibel herself. The transformation of her once seemingly understanding father to that of a man driven by social ambition and prejudice is painful and honest.
Sibel may be a force to be reckoned with in nature, but up against an intolerant society, she faces her truest challenge. There are no easy solutions here, which is why I wanted the film to try and propose one – but I enjoyed my viewing all the same.