When Ziki Hexum’s score begins the lament of the wind about the ending credits of A voice is still small, it’s a kind of sigh, a let go. For the previous 90 minutes, we had been invited to intimate conversations, searching, and poignant silences in the office and inpatient room of a New York hospital. In the discussions observed by filmmaker Luke Lorenzen, it’s hard to find a comment that isn’t filled with the complex questions and spiritual yearning as humans grapple with the interwoven journeys of the physical body. and soul.
The conversations that unfold in this challenging and sometimes painful documentary are conversations that few doctors have with their patients and few have with their families, especially in a hospital setting. cultures don’t want to look directly at disease and death like Americans do. Lorenzen, who delivered an intense portrait of Mexico City’s emergency medical workers in Midnight Family, spent nearly a year filming a group of four women completing a psychiatric residency at Mount Sinai, a teaching hospital in Manhattan. He focuses on one of the candidates for this clerical position, Margaret “Mati” Engel, and the group’s supervisor, Father David Fleenor, as they witness the suffering and struggle. with physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion and limits of empathy.
A voice is still small
Tough, penetrating and deeply moving.
Their group meetings began with David instructing Mati, Michele Gourley, Jessica Mitchem, and Fumiko Sakakibara in a brief, focused meditation. The discussions that follow are deep, structured although they fall within the cautious boundaries of speech therapy: “confirmation,” “resonance,” “acknowledgement,” “what I am doing.” listen”. In the end, however, the two central characters, exhausted, break and the guardrail falls off, an event that the film leads us to but still happens as a shock between two human beings who care as much as they do. So, like a bandage ripping a wound without ceremony.
Lorenzen’s approach is to authenticate and collaborate. As noted in the end credits, Engel and the filmmaker engaged in “a serious discussion…regarding ethical considerations,” and the patients who appeared on-screen chose to do the work. as such and can incorporate their use of footage “before locking the image. ” One of those patients’ sage advice titled the movie; another ended the documentary with a note of gratitude and breathtaking joy. They cannot forget.
The doctor opens to the sound of machines, one of the scary pieces of equipment in the hospital’s intensive care unit. In the center of all the tubes and screens is a patient who cannot speak. Mati, beside the bed, tries to interpret hand gestures and facial expressions. It’s an almost unbearable moment of privacy, the stillness and respectful distance of the camera — Lorenzen shot the film himself — acknowledging its importance and subtlety. “Can I hold your hand?” Mati asked, and it quickly became clear that doing so was not just an offer but a request, the contact being as comfortable for her as it was for the patient. That reciprocity is central to what Lorenzen captures through his lens as he obscures Mati and essentially goes through the show as well.
Along with the exchange of energies, ideas, and emotions between the chaplain and the patient comes the weight of pain and loss. Patients face devastating diagnoses, family members struggle with guilt and distress, and in one case, they threatened to commit suicide. Adding to the stress is the risk of COVID in the uncertain, early months of the pandemic; Lorenzen starts filming in September 2020 and many conversations in A voice is still small conducted from behind the surgical mask. In addition to how distracting those thin coatings are to the N95-savvy viewer, this also accentuates what the eyes reveal.
Of course, there are also Zoom calls: check-ins between Mati and David and his meetings with psychotherapist, A. Meigs Ross. In the first such session that we see, David wanted to be “easier to sit in a position of authority”; By the second time, all he could say about his supervisory role was “heartbreaking,” and he was ready to quit.
For Mati, with all her courage, commitment, intelligence and compassion, she was not always loved. And that just enriches the movie. This is not a two-dimensional portrait of heroism. Her story encapsulates a lot of off-screen drama — plot as well as tension and conflict in the workplace — in a short amount of time. The clergy served people of all faiths, and Mati, a Jew, struggled to reconcile the idea of a loving God with her ancestors’ experience at the hands of the Nazis. Her mother’s courageous act of leaving the Orthodox community, briefly mentioned, suggests a documentary-worthy story of its own. Her father’s sudden death left her in pain and struggling for three years.
Perhaps this explains the difficult love she managed at one point. “We couldn’t save our parents,” she told the patient’s son or daughter, whom we couldn’t see, deep emotion and impatience rising in her voice. that. She is almost certainly working on her own as well.
No matter how shy Mati’s mind was about religion, she believed in the “nourishing” attributes of ritual and prayer. It’s hard to argue with their value, even their necessity, after watching the lightly staged scene in which she baptizes a married couple’s deceased infant. Catholicism. A voice is still small is to listen to the truth within and bear witness. Sometimes the missionary needs guidance on the proper prayer, and sometimes holy water is served in a styrofoam cup.