by Sawyer J. Lahr
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Debuting internationally since February 2009, “Arithmetic Lesson” reaffirms the triumph of the spirit and teaches the unjust, but necessary lesson that defines a life, trauma. Seven-year-old, Gracie, is an Asian American girl trapped by a sexually abusive nanny from Taiwan. She must overcome the molestation and gain the attention of her busy father to finally expose the nanny’s betrayal of the grieving family.
A very bold risk is taken by staging such disturbingly intimate scenes of abuse that signal us to put up our moral guard and stand against the atrocity we know is so common and personal to many. The moments with Gracie alone in her room are tender, showing her unsure of how to feel with little reference at her early age to know whether to feel angry at her abuser or depressed and ashamed.
Gracie is empty and abandoned. Her comatose mother hangs onto her last threads of life in a hospital bed, and her nanny is an unwelcome replacement except as her father’s sometimes mistress.
Taiwanese director Wenhwa Ts’ao plants her viewers at the heart of Gracie’s conflict rather than filtered through the pragmatic eyes of adults. We must feel almost as helpless as Gracie. Parental affection and sexual behavior is confused. Gracie shouldn’t have to be wise enough to know the difference, but the threat of the nanny’s pinching, slapping, and molestation forces Gracie to point out to her father the marks on her body.
Arithmetic Lesson will play at Palm Springs International ShortFest in June 2009 where Ts’ao will be attending in-person. To learn more about the director, visit www.wenhwatsao.com.
Sawyer J. Lahr is Chief Editor of the forthcoming online publication, Go Over the Rainbow. He also writes a monthly film column for Mindful Metropolis, a conscious living magazine in Chicago, IL.
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