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“A hearing person is always nervous,” says Juma, the charismatic young auto mechanic who emerges as the nominal star of Oded Adomi Leshem’s perceptive, engrossing Voices from El-Sayed. Actually, Juma doesn’t say it—he signs it, in the hand-dialect unique to the El-Sayed, a Bedouin tribe that settled in Israel’s Negev Desert two centuries ago. Theirs, we’re told, remains the world’s largest community of the deaf. Marriage typically occurs between one deaf spouse and one hearing one—otherwise, goes the expression, “Who will hear the baby cry?” Something troubling this way comes when the parents of young Muhammad are offered the opportunity to have him implanted with a device that could enable him to hear and, they hope, to speak. The community splits on the ethics and value of such an intervention, and Salim, Muhammad’s father, is frustrated at the slow pace of Muhammad’s progress following surgery. Leshem finds the right balance between narrative and atmosphere, giving us in 73 unhurried minutes a beautifully detailed portrait of a hidden place.
On Wednesday, June 17, at 8 p.m. at Round House Theatre; also on Friday, June 19, at 2:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre.