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The Quiet Room (1996)


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.

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’.