CODA – Siân Heder’s film is as close to cinematic perfection as you can get

8th August 2021

CODA arrives in cinemas and on Apple TV on Friday, 13th August 2021.

Anyone who has ever watched one of the countless cooking programmes on our TV screens knows one thing: many of us can take a set of ingredients laid out before us and follow a printed recipe to create a delicious meal. However, while the result is tasty, it is nothing new; it lacks spark, creativity and invention. But, some people take those ingredients and use imagination, flair, and passion to create something unique. These people are culinary artists, and their ingredients are a mere canvas for creating a gastronomic work of art. Likewise, some directors and writers follow the tried and tested genre recipe while others create something new, fresh and delicious from the base ingredients. CODA is the latter, as it takes the classic coming-of-age family drama and adds layers of vibrant colour and diversity.

Written and directed by Siân Heder, CODA is a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. But, unlike so many remakes, CODA not only improves on the original film but is wrapped in such heart, warmth and joy that it becomes something new. Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is a high-school girl and fisherwoman and the only hearing person in her family. Attempting to balance school and fishing, Ruby works with her father, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), helping to sell their fish at the local harbour as she signs conversations for Frank and Leo. Heder quickly establishes Ruby’s essential role as the family interpreter, bridging the divide between a world of sound and silence in ensuring the fishing business survives.

Ruby is shy and detached at school, while her best friend, Gertie (Amy Forsyth), is the opposite, a powerhouse of adolescent hormones who lusts after Ruby’s brother. Ruby longs to find her place and purpose outside the family unit and act on her crush for Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a cute, sensitive, music-loving guy. In an attempt to deal with the latter, Ruby signs up for the school choir to be near Miles; after all, she loves singing, even if she thinks her voice may not be up to scratch. However, it turns out that Ruby has a fantastic singing voice, and the choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), is keen to build her potential. But can Ruby balance a newfound love of singing with her home duties? And will her family understand her new passion for music in a home of silence?

Emilia Jones and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo star in CODA. ©️Apple TV

Within its conversations on two opposing worlds, one of silence and one of sound, CODA finds a unique voice as the pressures on Ruby grow. Here, Ruby’s concerns, hopes and dreams are relatable to all hearing children of deaf adults (CODA) as Ruby’s need for self-determination suddenly clashes with her need to protect and support the family unit. Ruby’s relationship with her mum (Marlee Matlin) is complex as this clash comes into view, with her mum neither accepting nor supporting her idea of a music career. She fears losing her daughter to a hearing world she has felt alienated from for her entire life as Ruby finally asks her “if she wishes she had been born deaf.” The answer while cutting is rooted in honesty, enabling mother and daughter to find a path through the turmoil surrounding them. It’s an example of Heder’s ability to take classic coming-of-age themes and layer them with the complexity of two opposing yet interlinked worlds.

Equally assured is the complex relationship between Ruby and her older brother. While supportive and loving, Leo believes that the family unit must adapt to a life without Ruby, as their dad buries his head in fear of change. At the heart of CODA‘s beauty is a truly exceptional cast that provides masterful performances throughout; this is a family that feels real, a town you don’t want to leave and a coming-of-age journey that finds an eternal place in your heart. Back in 2000, Billy Elliot achieved similar, and it’s fair to say CODA owes much to Daldry’s film; in CODA we have an industry in decline (fishing), echoing the slowly eroding mining communities of Billy’s County Durham and in both movies we have a young person with an immense talent attempting to find a new opportunity outside the expectations that sit on their shoulders. In many ways, CODA is Billy Elliot told from a new perspective.

CODA’s heartwarming, emotional and sublime set of ingredients could have become nothing more than a textbook film in the wrong hands. But, with Heder, they become a glorious feast that is as close to cinematic perfection as you can get. Heder’s film reminds us that no matter how diverse our communication means, we all have a duty to embrace potential, understand the need for self-actualisation and reject the fear of change.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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