Coda, the coming-of-age drama that won multiple awards at Sundance, is available to stream on Apple
TV+ since August 13. The film was sold to Apple Studios for a record-breaking $25 million. It is often the case that remakes disappoint, never quite comparing to the original. It is not the case here. Coda is just as touching and witty as the original French film it is based on, and is even slightly better.
Coda, which stands for child of deaf adults, follows seventeen-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), the sole hearing member of a deaf family, the Rossis. Ruby is used to acting as an interpreter for her parents, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and works on the family’s fishing boat with her father and older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) in the mornings before school. After joining the choir club, Ruby discovers she has a gift for singing and is encouraged by her music teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) to apply to a prestigious music school. Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family in helping out in their fishing business and pursuing her own dreams.
Coda is a conventional coming-of-age story, with all its tear-jerking moments, told through a refreshing perspective. Written and directed by Siân Heder, Coda is based on a popular French film, La Famille Bélier, directed by Eric Lartigau and written by Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carré de Malberg, Eric Lartigau and Thomas Bidegain. La Famille Bélier was a box office hit in France when it came out in 2014. It was, however, heavily criticized for using hearing actors to play the roles of deaf characters.
Heder made a point to cast deaf actors for her film and to learn American Sign Language herself. “The key to representing a character from a community that you are not a part of is specificity,” she said. “Coda felt like a very specific story of this one working class family that were fishermen and isolated not just by being deaf, but more so by the fact that it’s a very solitary life out on a boat.” Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin had to be in the film when, she says, “I saw that Siân had done her homework and worked with directors of sign language to develop the story, when I saw that she had embraced the community and had learned sign herself and finally, was committed to casting the film authentically.”
Coda follows quite faithfully the original film, but places its focus more on the relationship between the Rossis, this close-knit family. The difference between the two films become evident with the choice of song for the audition at the end of the film. In the French version, Louane Emera, who played Paula, sings ‘Je vole’ (I fly) by Michel Sardou, as a direct letter to her parents, to tell them she must leave now (take flight). In Coda, it is Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ that Emilia Jones sings, which resonates with the film as a whole. It is a song about changing perspectives. This difference in the choice of song creates two quite different films. While in the French version, Paula uses the song to tell her parents she is now all grown up and is thus leaving the parental nest, in Coda, Ruby includes her family in her performance by signing the lyrics. She is not giving them a specific message, she is including them so they can connect with her, with what she loves to do.
Coda is an Apple Original Film and was produced by Vendome Pictures and Pathé, with Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, Patrick Wachsberger and Jérôme Seydoux serving as producers, and Ardavan Safaee and Sarah Borch-Jacobsen as executive producers.