Review by Jonathan Berk
A Still Small Voice looks at the people who work at hospitals to help our emotional and spiritual health. Director Luke Lorentzen's documentary focuses primarily on Mati, a chaplain who completed a yearlong residency at New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital in 2020, as she continues to learn to provide spiritual care to people going through various challenges ranging from illness to grief. Mati exhibits signs of burnout while working through some tough situations with patients, and is also struggling with her spirituality.
Lorentzen utilizes his cinematography to place the audience in a variety of perspectives. For many moments, the camera is placed outside of the room where Mati works with a patient. The audience is a voyeur or eavesdropper standing in the hall, looking through doorways, attempting to get a glimpse of what’s happening while hearing every word. It feels like we shouldn’t be privy to these private conversations, which makes their impact all the heavier.
Other times, the camera is very much involved in the conversation. There is a discussion Mati has with a lung-cancer patient shot in close-ups, cutting back and forth between the two as the patient discusses her concerns about her quality of life. “My intention is to live, but I also want a certain quality of life… I really do have to wait and see,” she confides to Mati. Here, we feel more a part of the conversation and interaction between these two subjects. The effect is powerful, as we can take on just an inkling of what Mati and the other chaplains do.
There is an element of this film that focuses on David, the supervisor of the chaplains in the residency program, and his struggles with his role. Twice we see him on a Zoom call, discussing his feelings of burnout and uncertainty. Other times, we see him working with the whole group, and attempting to lead them through various practices to help with the job. Then, perhaps the most dramatic elements in the film are the scenes of just him and Mati. The tension in these moments is unnerving, and the filmmaker still manages to be a silent observer.
The filmmaking choices here allow the audience time to think, reflect, and consider all that is displayed. There are times when it cuts to a shot of the sky, to a trash compactor, or to some other seemingly innocuous B-roll that serves to punctuate the previous scene with its silence. Through Mati and the other chaplains, we consider many things — from our place in the world, to the role relationships play in our lives.
A Still Small Voice puts humanity on display. There are many connections an audience member can make with the people in this documentary, and the filmmaking allows us to contemplate them as we watch. The film proves to be moving and inspiring, while managing to effectively engage you via the challenges Mati faces. There are moments where you can look into her eyes, and see on full display the internal struggle she faces throughout the film of her calling to help — and the need for a break.
A Still Small Voice will be in theaters on November 10.