TIFF 2021 Review: A Sound Designer Gets Back on Track in Juanjo Giménez’s Moving “Out of Sync”

There may be no more helpless feeling as a moviegoer than to watch someone scream in silence, a scene made all the more wrenching in “Out of Sync” when its central character (Marta Nieto) can’t hear herself. Not having a voice wouldn’t seem to be an issue for the woman, who director Juanjo Giménez would seem to honor by not giving her name, content to live behind the scenes as a sound designer, but she is considerably more disturbed by a gradual loss of hearing, first noted by nervous producers who find that the timing is off on their films and television shows. At first told that there’s 22 quarters of a frame difference between what she hears and what she experiences, the widening gap between her senses becomes a novel approach to looking at how everything in her life has become connected for the worst.

Although the woman she plays may remain anonymous, you know exactly who she is from Nieto’s arresting performance, a little worse for wear when we first meet her in a recording studio but only the arrival of her supervisor Iván (Miki Esparbé) lets one know she’s been there well past regular working hours, initially appearing as a perfectionist unable to leave without getting the sloshing of leaves just right in her Foley work. However, there are other reasons she’s avoiding home, soon to be evicted by her ex (Fran Lareu) who’s ready to lease the space to another after she’s avoided speaking with him for months and when she’s left without place either to live or to work, she pays a call to her mother (Luisa Merelas), looking for not only a couch to crash on, but also a DNA sample for her to see whether her hearing impairment might be the results of genetics, though neither are easy for her to ask for.

The inability to connect with others is increasingly emphasized in the ingenious use of sound design by Oriol Tarragó, Marc Bech and Dani Fontrodona where it isn’t just that she can’t hear things, but they are on a delay, hearing footsteps she’s taken a few seconds before downstairs after she’s already reached the sidewalk or more intriguingly, conversations related to her once they’ve already happened. It isn’t the only way Giménez and co-writer Pere Altimira have the past catch up to the sound designer, with her time off from work forcing her to confront some long neglected areas in her personal life and “Out of Sync” shrewdly conveys sonically how she’s put in touch again with things that she thought she had to give up years earlier in pursuit of her career and takes a greater interest in the places she’s in. Nieto, whose expressive face would’ve made her a sensation even in the silent era, is just poised enough throughout to make the moments where she’s really shaken, either by her diminished hearing or by the strange turns her life takes, really powerful and in spite of such an obvious stylistic conceit, “Out of Sync” is affecting for how nuanced it is, making the usually imperceptible deeply felt.

“Out of Sync” does not yet have U.S. distribution.