The Quiet Room: 'I don't want to talk about it'

The Quiet Room: 'I don't want to talk about it'
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The girl (Chloe Ferguson) listens as her parents argue in the next room. Kate, a babysitter (Kate Greetham), arrives as the parents are about to go to counselling. Kate asks the silent child if she has gone mad. Later, the child almost forgets she is not speaking. Summary by Paul Byrnes.

The film is partly an exercise in sound and the human voice. We hear voices from other rooms, the internal voice of the child’s narration, sometimes two or three different voices at the same time, all of which are still intelligible. De Heer builds up a sense that each voice is separate, isolated from the others. The stillness of the camera work also sets up a sense of sterility within the family. There is order but not harmony. Certain shots also suggest a child’s way of looking at things – such as the way the child plays with her teeth, looking at them in the mirror, perhaps because the babysitter has braces and she wonders if she will have to have them later. In her narration, the words ‘practically an adult’ are like a terrible condemnation of the babysitter.


The Quiet Room synopsis

A seven-year-old girl (Chloe Ferguson) refuses to speak. We hear her thoughts in a constant and perceptive monologue, but she will not talk to her parents (Celine O’Leary and Paul Blackwell). A series of flashbacks shows that their increasingly vicious arguments are partly to blame, but they are not the whole story. The girl’s memory of herself at age three (where she’s played by Phoebe Ferguson) suggests that her silence is, in part, a revolt against growing up.


The Quiet Room curator's notes

Rolf de Heer conceived, wrote and directed The Quiet Room very quickly while waiting to get a much larger project off the ground (Epsilon, 1995), but that may have helped to heighten the film’s intensity. He has said he was interested in depicting a seven-year-old’s perception of adulthood, but the film is as much about the way the girl perceives herself, and her transition from very small and happy, to bigger and less happy. Further along in that path of transitions, she perceives that her parents, both of whom love her, are very clearly unhappy.

The film can be described as a depiction of a marriage break-up through a child’s eyes, or equally, the rebellion of a child faced with her own sense of helplessness. Either way, it’s a remarkably effective and imaginative film, with an intense emotional landscape. Chloe Ferguson’s performance is astonishing, but part of that is the way that de Heer uses her monologue. It’s recorded to sound very intimate and personal, like a whispered journal. De Heer used his own children to help with the writing – 'At one point when I was writing, it was the school holidays. I would talk to my kids, particularly my seven-year-old. I would have sessions with them, trying to explore the way they thought, all the time remembering how I used to think when I was a kid’.

Notes by Paul Byrnes

Production company:
Fandango Australia
Domenico Procacci, Rolf de Heer
Rolf de Heer
Rolf de Heer
Graham Tardif