Hot Docs 2022 Review: The Power of a Family Secret Shifts from the Keepers to Those Willing to Expose It in Jasmin Mara López’s “Silent Beauty”

When the truth has been hard enough to hold for the family of director and subject Jasmin Mara López in “Silent Beauty,” a tactile example of the impact of being sexually abused would seem difficult to convey without dipping into lurid detail yet in one of the film’s most staggering sequences, the filmmaker all but excuses herself from the frame, perching her camera above a kitchen sink and describing the way her grandfather made her feel, insisting that she start washing the glasses first and that she clean dishes from the edges in. With only her hands visible, the stern admonitions López recounts in her grandfather’s voice reflects the power dynamic as the instructions have weight and she does not, and the sound of water trickling down the drain and the jostling of utensils are bound to stay with her when every word strikes fear.

López, who worked in audio documentary before bringing a camera into the mix, clearly knows the power of a voice can have, and in “Silent Beauty,” gradually takes back all that her own has as she gets into the less obvious space between when such abuse takes place within a family and having to inform them about what happened. By the time “Silent Beauty” begins, the hardest part would seem to have happened already when López told her mother Sandra about an incident at the age of 10 and while Sandra believes her, the idea that her father, a Baptist minister, could be capable of such a thing still shakes her. It comes as less of a surprise to her younger sister Sara, who was subject to the same abuse though the two would never tell each other at the time, and with a new niece to protect, the two subject themselves to another round of hard conversations to warn a new generation of a threat that doesn’t have to be a stranger.

There is a calm throughout “Silent Beauty” that allows audiences get to the same place as its director is, no matter how upsetting her history may be, turning home videos into memory that can be seen for what love did exist inside the family before her grandfather poisoned it. López and cinematographer Bron Moyi quite literally create the space within frames so that any isolation that anyone feels speaking about abuse comes across in what they can’t bring themselves to say just yet and still you can sense the trust in the room from simply being able to talk to one another. While the film scrupulously doles out details about how deep the rot runs, occasionally inserting López’s attempts to confront her grandfather and a subsequent police investigation, the thoughtful presentation of interviews where no one is ever undercut by anyone else and is restricted to the women in the family who have provided strength to one another gives a steady momentum as a counter, illuminating the unspoken bonds that have the capacity to overcome the culture of silence around abuse and give survivors peace of mind.

“Silent Beauty” will screen again at Hot Docs on May 7th at 2 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 3.