Speaking in Tongues

 

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This film puts evangelical religion in America under the spotlight.

 
Speaking in Tongues

 

Nathan Deming who directed this film as his first feature and co-wrote it with Lawrie Doran can now look back on it as a promising start. Although Nathan is American, he studied at the London Film School and Speaking in Tongues is made with a technical assurance that is striking for a first feature. The story begins in Wisconsin but soon moves to Chicago which is the film's principal setting and the good use of location shooting there (photography by Mark Khalife) is particularly noteworthy. As for the material Nathan has sensibly chosen to draw on his own experiences to some extent and that has helped him to bring conviction to the creation of the characters and their milieu.

 

What Nathan had in mind when seeking the right subject matter was the fact that he himself had spent a couple of years as a born-again Christian. Since he mentions this in publicity for the film and indicates that it was for him a passing phase, I had assumed that Speaking in Tongues would be a work of a particular kind. It seemed likely that it would show its central character, Jake (Scott Hennelly), first seen being baptised into the church of Bright Horizons, eventually having a total change of heart and thus rendering this a film strongly critical of evangelical Christianity. That course could have been followed without necessarily questioning the sincerity of the church members, a point brought home by certain parallels between this work and Daniel Kokotaljo's first feature, 2017's Apostasy. That piece similarly found the filmmaker echoing his own repudiation, in that case his decision to cease being a Jehovah's Witness. But, in dealing with that particular Church, it brought out attitudes and requirements which strongly invited viewers to disapprove of that Church's stance.

 

Nathan Deming's approach doesn't take things that far, even though it is evident that Jake comes to question his earlier enthusiasm and his willingness to consider becoming a leading light in Bright Horizons. What Speaking in Tongues does do very clearly is to show how religious belief of this kind can be embraced as a sanctuary by those who feel insecure (in Jake's case we see that he is still on medication and has failed to come to terms with the death of his mother the year before). His time in Chicago is as part of an internship under the leadership of a young pastor (Tyler Esselman). Jake is just one of several youths who go out on the streets hoping to bring people to Christ prior to the opening of a new branch of Bright Horizons in that city. Their endeavours - often unsuccessful - are convincingly portrayed and this film could not be further removed from those movies made as works of Christian propaganda. Nevertheless, while being made aware of Jake's questioning of this world he has entered, audiences are left to make their own assessment and that is an approach which renders Apostasy, an outstanding work in its own right, by far the more memorable piece. But this film finds Nathan Deming presenting the story he has chosen to tell with a confident grip and he obtains good performances not just from his leading players but from others too - I would especially pick out one of the supporting players, Audrey Gladson, who makes a small part telling. There is one further point to be made too: whereas Apostasy may have spoken most readily to older audiences, placing Jake as the central figure may make this film particularly meaningful to young viewers who will readily identify with him and the issues that confront him.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Scott Hennelly, Tyler Esselman, William Walton, Sedra, Pete Schwaba, William French, Charlie Lubeck, Barbara Malangoni, Keith Kelly, Peter Nerad, Audrey Gladson, Clayton Backes.

 

Dir Nathan Deming, Pro Harry Cherniak, Nathan Deming and Lawrie Doran, Screenplay Nathan Deming and Lawrie Doran, Ph Mark Khalife, Pro Des Alyssa Stratton, Ed Astrid Carlen-Helmer and Nathan Deming, Music Andrea Boccadoro.

 

experiment 23a films/plainspeak pictures-Sharp Teeth Films.
80 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 3 August 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. PG.