Last weekend I saw a movie I didn’t even hear about until the evening before the screening: IMAGINE.

This film screened at the Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles, but earlier in the year it screened at SXSW.

The movie centers on (Ian) an instructor at a school for the blind. He’s new, he’s unorthodox, and his methods become a source of concern for the school’s Doctor. That method? (Daredevil fans might recognize it) Echolocation. Basically, Ian, who is blind, can use sound to sense where items are located in a room, on the street. He doesn’t walk with a cane, but instead wears shoes with very loud heels, or walks while clucking his tongue, snapping his fingers, anything to cause sound so he can sense where things are.

The students don’t trust him. They think he can see, or that he walks with a cane when they’re not around. The film stars many children who are actually blind, adding to the realism of the piece (Edward Hogg, who plays Ian, is not blind). The performances are subtle and effective, but what made the film pop (for, it is true, the pace somewhat lags at certain points) is the complete immersion into the world of the blind.

Sounds become louder as characters focus, we’re shown scenes of blind students attempting the simple (for those with sight) task of pouring a glass of water. And then the camera seems to float right up to a person’s face, then swirl behind his head while he walks. WE get a sense, as viewers that there’s a dangerous world that grows more threatening with every footstep, yet we’re not SHOWN what’s around the students sat they progress to the sidewalks, cafes, and general community, adding to a sense of foreboding that’s not “thriller” level, but is necessary to this character-based piece.

Over the course of the movie, Ian not only gives the students a little courage, but also helps Eva, a sheltered woman at the school, rediscover all that life can offer her despite being blind. There are different ways to see the world, but you have to experience it before you can truly see.

After the film, director Andrzej Jakimowski did  a Q & A and was asked how he managed to make such a simple film feel so intense, and his answer was just as simple: When you’re showing blind characters, there’s an inherent tension involved just by the fact that they’re blind. They walk on the sidewalk near a busy street, without a cane, and we’re fearing they don’t get hit, hoping they don’t step into the street. Human curiosity and determination create the tension around the circumstances of these people.

IMAGINE is the type of film (like last years The Intouchables) that is very basic in story and structure, yet complex in the level of human-to-human interactions and basic needs. The filmmaking excels, and I look forward to seeing more of Jakimowski’s work. If you get the chance to see Imagine, please do.

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