This is one of my all time favourites. It’s such a touching, emotional film that just fills me up with sadness and joy (in that order).
I’ve made a courageous statement that must be explained. Selina is the centre of the film. She is the young teenager, blind and uneducated, raised in an abusive environment, under the dictatorship of an abusive mother. She is so kind and innocent (but not dumb, nor naive) that you could almost compare her to a saint or, better said, a martyr. It’s a very memorable character. So what Elizabeth Hartman has to do is to carry all these qualities of the character and make sure they are not altered in the process of putting them onscreen.
It sounds a bit robotic. But that’s how I objectively perceive it: the character is so well written that in many ways outshines the actress, whoever she may be. The best an actress can do is play it by the book and not trying to grab the attention by improvising Oscar bating scenes that would make the audience say: wow, she can really cry! Or scream!, - these would be actions that would not fit the character. Elizabeth Hartman knows better than that, so she plays Selina like she’s being told: simple, unsophisticated, unselfishly and completely dedicated to the message that the character and the story have to tell.
Elizabeth’s first big plus is not to her credit: her physical presence; she is delicate, with an innocent look, she has the right age to pull it off. And what she brings to this is the great body work: let’s not forget Elizabeth can’t really use her eyes in expressing emotion here. This is a great handicap for an actress and she has to try to make up in other aspects: her voice is soft, delicate. And her line readings (her screenplay dialogue is simple, touching, unsophisticated – yet effective because it’s very believable) are perfect. Even in the scenes where she’s mad, she doesn’t overplay it.
Her biggest credit is being faithful to the character and the mood of the film. Elizabeth can beautifully portray Selina’s surprise while tasting pineapple juice, yet she manages not make her look dumb, but sweet and delicate and so so likeable in the eyes of the audience. Elizabeth always remembers that Selina is also a character designed to manipulate the hearts of the viewers; the success of the intense emotional messages of the film counts of her ability of conquering our hearts, on making it believable and on sacrificing her ego in favour of the character’s infinite humility.
I’ve heard it before that simplicity is often enough harder to play than big loud emotions. In her debut role, Elizabeth dives into the character’s modesty and innocence, making the best acting decision: putting Selina above the actress, with the cost of making herself (the actress) look like a simple device for carrying the message of kindness and tolerance that the film wants to deliver. It’s a success, because that’s what the writing required: no hesitation from the actress and excellent line reading. It’s not a flashy performance, but that’s not why I’m not rating it higher. I’ll give it a , but I honestly thought of 4 stars. It’s not easy to rate, as it’s very hard to separate the love for the film and the character from the effort given by the actress. It’s a beautiful performance, but, as said before, Selina outshines Elizabeth Hartman and in the end that’s the way it should be.