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A study of disability that never forgets the distinctive personality of the young woman coping with it, Sylvelin Makestad‘s I See You follows a blind teen through the transition between high school and college. Rena Yass is an excellent subject, bright and prickly and just enough affected by social anxieties to not be the usual “inspirational” figure who convinces us everything is possible. It isn’t, and this doc should play better to audiences with blind loved ones thanks to its directness about Rena’s frustrations.
“I became rather nasty” as a child, Rena admits, explaining how her tomboyish nature (she played with wooden swords instead of Barbies) made her ill-equipped to brush off schoolyard taunts. Now she’s something of a misfit, participating in group activities like her church’s band without seeming part of the group. She’s making an effort, clearly, but it’s hard to tell whether she isn’t trying hard enough or simply has alienated classmates in their earlier years of school.
Whatever the case, Rena is far from giving up. Instead of fleeing the setting of earlier traumas, she wants to make teaching a career — after, of course, reinventing herself at college. We tag along on a visit to a blind woman who teaches language studies, where the two discuss strategies for coping with student-behavior problems that might flummox even teachers with eyes in the back of their heads.
Makestad shows us enough moments of Rena’s impressive competence (she wows her dad, and us, by constructing a set of bookshelves alone in the garage) that we share her optimism upon leaving home and moving into her own apartment near campus. But freshman-year orientation traditions weren’t designed with the sightless in mind, and poignant scenes show discouragement quickly setting in. Once removed from an uncomfortable situation, Rena is winningly perceptive about herself, acknowledging she may have bitten off more than she can chew.
There are highs as well, especially in scenes of her spending time with her first boyfriend. “I am in love,” she declares, and her apparent assumption of permanence is one of few ways in which she’s exactly like her sighted peers.
If the film doesn’t put us in Rena’s shoes as effectively as, say, Seung-Jun Yi‘s Planet of Snail, it is every bit as good at depicting her character, making her special mix of boldness and apprehension understandable. If her high school classmates could have seen her in this light, one suspects they would have worked much harder to give her a second chance.
Production company: Mantaray Film
Director-Screenwriter: Sylvelin Makestad
Producer: Stina Gardell
Directors of photography: Erik Vallsten, David Odell, Malin Korkeasalo, Ellen Kugelberg
Editor: Stefan Sundlof
Music: Rebekka Karijord
No rating, 82 minutes
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