Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

These days, when we're told that a film breaks new ground, we expect it to do so by showing us dramatic, shocking scenes. This quiet, understated documentary, much of which offers only talking heads, is not only a potent confrontation of taboo subject matter, it's a reminder that words still have the power to move us by themselves.

Chosen is the story of three men who experienced sexual abuse at an English private boarding school. Two teachers were involved, and the men's accusations were made public some years ago, but there was never a successful prosecution. But the film doesn't focus on this - it's more interested in examining what happened to the men and how it affected them.

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Although in our society it is almost universally accepted that child sexual abuse is wrong, we very rarely think about why. Most people don't want to - they find the subject too distasteful even to contemplate. This sort of attitude can unfortunately stigmatise the victim as well as the abuser.

If you're not willing to take a difficult direct look at this subject, Chosen is not a film for you. It's a film that looks at the way abuse can distort the relationships between children and adults - relationships that are already imbued with a complex power dynamic.

The men here talk frankly about the way they were made to feel special, but also about the sense of loss and betrayal they experienced when their abusers lost interest or pursued other children, when they were far too young to understand such rejection. They talk about the pain of some sexual acts and also about the sense they had of being contaminated by them, the guilt they experienced and their consequent difficulty in defining their own identities as they grew up.

This is not just a sensationalist story of taboo behaviours and physical suffering; it's a story of ruined confidence, broken trust, and lives disfigured by what happened for decades afterwards.

Naturally, any sensitive viewer will be impressed by the courage with which these men recount their stories. The camera never flinches from them, even when one breaks down. Only during descriptions of the abusive acts themselves does it look away, reminding us that these acts were never about the people involved, and depriving the viewer of any temptation to associate what is being described with interaction between adults. The frank simplicity of the film's design is itself transgressive, and it hits harder as a result. Its plainness makes it impossible to hide from the message it delivers.

Showing, as it does, something of the process by which these men have reclaimed their lives, as well as what has happened to them, Chosen is a film which many people who have experienced abuse will find useful. It is also a wake-up call to a society that find it all too easy to turn away from such subjects, applying the law where necessary but doing little to support the victims. At a time when crime is the focus of much popular television, it presents us with the human face of suffering we rarely see.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2009
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Chosen packshot
Three men talk about the sexual abuse they suffered in private schools.

Director: Brian Woods

Year: 2008

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: UK


Doc/Fest 2008

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