Eight-year-old Yael is shy and not always at ease. She prefers writing letters to performing dances for her applauding Filipino family. She listens endlessly to the cassette tapes recorded by her father, who is spending years away from home working in Riyadh. Her uncle, a rock star with the band The Futures, acts as something of a surrogate father. When she hears an advertisement for a pen that will give her a 'wonderful life', she decides to spend all her savings on this miracle pen.
The film captures the confusing and magical moments alike in the life of a child who, although preferring to be by herself, deep down also longs to be heard. Shireen Seno gives a voice to this quiet little girl in her perceptive, playful film full of jump cuts, sensitive sound design and ’80s music – and even the odd surrealist intermezzo.
The sparkling Nervous Translation is set in 1987, not long after the People Power Revolution that led to the fall of president Marcos. Seno depicts this precarious time purely through Yael’s childish eyes, which understandably reduce the threats to manageable proportions. Yael’s world is small – she likes to play cooking on her mini stove – but the real world is knocking at the gates: a typhoon is approaching the Philippines. Seno empathetically captures the innocence and uncertainty of a child who doesn’t yet understand the world, although she is surrounded by it.
A work-in-progress version of Nervous Translation was previously screened at Cinema One Originals Film Festival in Manila, after which it has been completed for this world premiere. Winner NETPAC Award, IFFR 2018.