“Sound of Metal,” which made its world premiere Sept. 6 at TIFF in the Platform Prize program, is the directorial debut of Darius Marder, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Abraham. Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Lauren Ridloff and Mathieu Amalric, “Sound of Metal” follows a drummer named Ruben (Ahmed) whose life and relationship with his bandmate and girlfriend (Cooke) are turned upside-down when he begins to lose his hearing. Matters of the heart mix with the rigorous demands of the percussive world, with everything taking on added dimension because of his rapid hearing-loss.
Marder, who previously co-wrote “The Place Beyond the Pines” and has re-teamed with that film’s director, Derek Cianfrance, for an upcoming Western, sees “Sound of Metal” as “a spiritual film, not in an overly religious way, but as a very visceral and emotional experience. I’m a believer in intimacy and sincerity, and I wanted to ask the question of what happens when you strip away who you think you are.”
And it was that level of intimacy that leading man Ahmed responded to, commenting that “Darius created a safe space for me to be more vulnerable on-screen than I ever have been before.”
Ridloff plays Diane, a deaf woman who crosses paths with Ruben. “What impresses me the most about ‘Sound of Metal’ is how it’s such an authentic piece of writing done by a bunch of hearing people,” Ridloff says, adding that the film “explores the subtleties of hearing loss and the many degrees of deaf identity that has generally been hidden from society.”
A large number of the cast were recruited from the deaf community. “Inclusive storytelling is essential,” says Marder, who adds that “diversity in film, not only in terms of who we see on camera but who the stories are about, helps to show a representation of the world we live in. We fought from the beginning to cast deaf actors in deaf roles.”
Ahmed’s dedication to his craft was integral to the entire production finding its stride. “I love the idea of being challenged and here I learned how to play the drums and American Sign Language. One of the most beautiful things about being an actor is learning new skills. It’s such a unique gift, and this film was fully transformative,” he says. And his director couldn’t be happier. “All of the actors had to earn each moment,” says Marder, who adds that “the bravery and intensity shown by everyone in the cast is what I hope gets honored. They delivered everything I asked of them, and more.”
It was a fast shoot on a limited budget, which helped to keep the creative juices flowing. “We shot it in four weeks, and we only did two takes per scene, so everyone really got down in the trenches and brought the best that they could to every single moment,” says Ahmed, who adds that the film “opened my heart and my eyes. It’s a love story, it’s a music film, and it’s a film about how we all communicate with each other. I’m so grateful to have taken this journey with everyone as it was such an immersive experience.”
And Marder’s quest for realism certainly made an impact. “I saw how Darius hand-picked each actor and how much authenticity he sought,” says Ridloff. “This was not an easy film to put together from scratch but Darius did it.”