The Portuguese actor Lúcia Moniz is maybe still best known as the woman Colin Firth falls for in Love Actually. Now she stars in this sombre, angry social-realist drama from the Portuguese film-maker Ana Rocha (a London Film School graduate), which sees Brexit Britain through European eyes. There are some implausibilities and untied plot strands, but also something scary and overwhelmingly sad.
Moniz and Ruben Garcia play Bela and Jota, a Portuguese couple with three children in a London council flat who have fallen on hard times. Bela makes some money cleaning houses but Jota is angry and depressed at not having been paid for timber-yard work. Their daughter Lu (Maisie Sly) is deaf, her hearing aid has stopped working, and suddenly the family are in the abyss of poverty. Bela is reduced to shoplifting from a convenience store, after leaving the kids to play behind a bin because she is ashamed to have them with her for the theft. Things suddenly accelerate with terrifying speed: the play-centre supervisor where Bela leaves Lu notices the little girl’s non-functioning hearing aid and some bruising on her back and calls social services.
Bela and Jota are astonished at the idea that their children could be permanently taken away, but enlist the help of activist and former social worker Ann (Sophia Myles), who advises them how to combat the system, and even has a secret plan for those prepared to take desperate measures. The care system is portrayed as callous and bureaucratic; officials see the family’s attempts to speak to their daughter in Portuguese or sign language at special “family meetings” as inherently suspect. Perhaps a little unsubtly, it is officialdom that can’t, or won’t, listen. Rocha’s film shows us a fragment of lives lived in fear of poverty.
• Listen is released on 10 June in cinemas.