Films have an unparalleled ability to shed light on the darkest corners of human experience. However, to highlight the nuances and vulnerabilities of these experiences within the span of 15 minutes in the form of a short documentary speaks to the ability and the vision of the storytellers that have emerged today.
'In No Sence', featuring Lilya Sabatier's story, is a documentary short film that narrates Lilya’s experiences primarily through two languages. One employs Lilya’s voice to share her story, while simultaneously, the other speaks through the body's movements. These movements are choreographed to document the lived experiences of child sexual abuse through the lens of the survivor.
The short documentary takes viewers on an intimate and harrowing journey through the complex realm of child sexual abuse, intertwining body movement to explore trauma, memory, and the prospects of healing. Directed by Gia Singh, the film delves into the visceral emotional landscape of the survivor, Lilya, as she grapples with the haunting reality of abuse.
This integration of movement and spoken narrative adds a layer of depth to Lilya's experiences, allowing her emotions to be expressed in ways words alone could never convey. The choreography becomes a visceral language, providing insight into the turmoil that exists within Lilya's psyche.
Gia Singh Arora
From its very inception, the film establishes its visual direction, oscillating between intimate handheld shots and a gritty, dark atmosphere. This interplay mirrors the ebb and flow of Lilya's emotional journey, offering viewers an experience that mirrors her psychological turbulence. The stark contrasts in visual styles serve as a cinematic metaphor, taking the audience into the narrative's exploration of darkness and its hope for healing.
The film navigates the fine line between realism and dramatisation, establishing a performance space that resonates with survivors without causing further harm. Especially impressive is Gia’s ability to convey this story without the aggressive undertones or the violence often accompanying portrayals of such narratives. The film provides an example of how responsible storytelling can shed light on trauma without exploiting it.
Gia Singh Arora
Exploring the aftermath of abuse, In No Sence delves deeply into the survivor's internal struggle with feelings of guilt and responsibility and the crescendo of confrontation that builds within the narrative.
It confronts us head-on with the disorienting emotions that follow such a traumatic event, raising questions like, "Was I supposed to say no? Is it my fault?" This exploration of Lilya’s psychological landscape unveils the nature of the aftermath — an isolating burden.
The film also brings into light the complex intersection of pleasure with abuse. The candid portrayal of experiencing pleasure amidst suffering is a courageous exploration that underscores the multi-dimensional impact of abuse on survivors.
"The emotional resonance found in the film is a direct outcome of offering space to Lilya to express in her chosen way," says Gia. "As filmmakers, we occasionally overlook the importance of extending this space, and we may lack sensitivity when collaborating with people who have experienced similar or even more arduous situations. At the end of the day, I realized an empathetic human being first is what makes an honest filmmaker."
"Yet, in tandem, I found myself grappling with certain questions: Are we merely scratching at the surface of a traumatic event for the sake of a film? Are we just taking something painful, an ongoing struggle, and recreating it? What are my boundaries as a filmmaker? What should be shot but not shown and when do I put the camera down? These questions have stayed with me throughout the project, from its inception to filming. Knowing that I shoulder the responsibility not just for the final artistic outcome, but also knowing that the film, once finished, remains, was as much a part of the the experience as putting it together."
Throughout the film, the survivor's physical movements serve as a powerful conduit for a range of emotions — yearning for touch, recoiling from it, and the ceaseless cycle in between. These movements encapsulate the internal conflict that abuse can sow, a tumultuous tug-of-war between desire and aversion. This visceral dance offers a window into the survivor's battle to reclaim control and agency. This becomes especially potent when abuse takes root at a young age, intertwining itself deeply with one's identity as they mature.
In No Sence deftly addresses the concept of repressed memories resurfacing, reflecting the reality that trauma can hide in the recesses of memory for years. These sequences not only advance the narrative but also offer insight into the complex process of re-encountering suppressed memories, a task that Lilya faced with courage.
While art can be a means of healing, In No Sence elevates this concept. The documentary allows Lilya to confront her personal trauma, bringing a cathartic element to her performance. Through this process, the film exemplifies how art can act as a catalyst for healing, not just for the artist but for the audience as well.