“Dance me to my song”: a movie about disability, autonomy, feelings

"Dance me to my song"Today, I’ll talk about an Australian 1998 movie that I found out about thanks to Lorella Ronconi, during our chat, some time ago. “Dance me to my song” was directed by Rolf de Heer, a director who, through his movies, gives often a voice to those who doesn’t have it. The movie tells a fictional story, but with many details in common with the real life of Heather Rose, a woman with a very severe disability, died when she was only 36, who wrote the script and interpreted the main character, Julia, a woman suffering from cerebral palsy who uses a speech synthesizer to communicate with the rest of the world. She is included into a project which promotes the autonomy of disabled people. So, she leaves the treatment centre she was hospitalized in and goes to live in a flat all for herself, helped by an assistant, Madelaine, who constantly humiliates and uses violence on her, both psychological and physical. But Julia’s life hasn’t just shadows. Counterbalancing Madelaine, there’s Rix, another professional assistant who, despite her not such reliable look, is able to perfectly empathize with Julia and, above all, treats her respectfully and, all in all, as an individual, rather than a patient.  But, above all, there’s Eddie, Julia’s neighbour, who gradually establishes with her a relationship which goes well beyond friendship, causing Madelaine’s grudge and cruel revenge.

“Dance me to my song” is a hard movie, with intense scenes, which leave little or nothing to imagination. It also succeeds in clearly showing how, beyond their specific handicap, people with a (even severe) disability are still, in every way, people like the others, sharing the same instincts and wishes.  And – surprisingly? – they can also look fascinating and even sexually desirable at “able-bodied” people’s eyes: the scene where Julia and Eddie make love is as much erotic as it would have been if, instead of a disabled actress,  there would have been another corresponding to the classical standards of beauty and normality. Only Madelaine’s short-sighted and influenced by stereotypes view prevents her from understanding that there’s nothing “insane” in what she’s seen, when she took them by surprise.

A must-see movie, “Dance me to my song”, that can also help reflecting on another important topic: the right of disabled people to an autonomous life, being not just “objects” to take care of, but also, and above all, owners of their own lives, under every aspect.

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