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STUDIO Music Box Films
RUNNING TIME 119 minutes
• Cast Interviews
• Quietsch, a short film
• Under the Sun, a not-so-short film
• Theatrical Trailer
A gut-churning but impressive German crime drama.
Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Möhring, Baran Bo Odar
Based on a novel by German author Jan Costin Wagner, The Silence begins when a girl is brutally murdered in a field. Exactly 23 years later, another young girl is missing, her bicycle abandoned in the same spot, leading police to suspect the same killer may be at work again. Recently widowed detective David and his colleague Janna struggle to solve the mystery of these parallel crimes with the help of Krischan, the retired investigator of the unresolved case.
Last year, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners showed us an effective, if muddled, look into the aftermath of loss. Villeneuve’s direction showed a good deal of restraint, but Aaron Guzikowski’s script was downright wacky in places, trying to impress an audience that was jaded by years of brutal yet bland television police procedurals. After all, mounds of mutilated corpses have been proudly shown on TV every week since CSI began airing. And right now, on some TV channel, you know some teary-eyed actor is pleading: “Please, detective, find my little girl.”
Baran Bo Odar’s German murder mystery The Silence is a very restrained, yet extremely effective police procedural for grown-ups. There’s no bloody gore, and any physical violence is pushed almost completely out of the frame. The impressive thing is that Odar’s restraint never feels like a limitation or a cop-out, it feels like a calculated effort to hit you where it hurts. It’s an unflinching look into the lives of parents who’ve buried their children, and men who struggle with impulses to do unspeakable things.
A purer meditation on loss than Villeneuve’s Prisoners, The Silence is about the threat and aftermath of loss, and how relationships grow tangled around the crater formed by loss. The film’s talented ensemble cast forms a group of remarkably interesting characters: the woman happens to be sleeping with the retired detective who never found her daughter. The guilt-ridden pedophile, hiding in plain sight as a family man. The lonely murderer who searches for a long lost kindred spirit. The detective still reeling from the loss of his wife, who wears her clothes in an attempt to cope with his immeasurable grief.
In addition to interesting characters, the film also has a great look. Odar has a brilliant eye, and many of his shots are expertly framed to create tension, such as a knife sliding out of a pocket in the foreground, with a detective’s pregnant belly in the background. Odar doesn’t have the visual grime of David Fincher, instead he relishes in crisp, clean compositions and the contrast of using a warm color palette to tell a chilling story.
While there’s no doubt that The Silence is a well made film, it isn’t a particularly enjoyable one. It’s ruthlessly bleak, exploring the loneliness and isolation of pedophiles and those affected by grief. The film’s morality is streaked with gray— is the haunted pedophile who has never acted upon his urges still a monster? Do we want him, a key character who could help unravel the film’s mystery, to kill himself? Do we laugh when the paunchy German nudist accidentally finds a dead body? The answers to these questions aren’t as simple as they might seem, and the film is intent on challenging us frequently. It’s also got one of the bleakest endings I’ve ever seen in a contemporary crime drama. The Silence is engaging, and a hell of a lot more poignant than your typical TV police procedural, but it ain’t exactly a good time at the movies. It might be worth a watch, however, if you can stomach it.
While I was impressed with the DVD transfer, I hear the Blu-Ray transfer is nothing short of fantastic. If I ever feel like watching this film again, I’ll definitely go for the HD version. The 5.1 German surround track is immersive and surprisingly active for such a small film, with lots of outdoor ambience. The extras include a trailer, short interviews with the principal cast members, and two additional films from director Baran Bo Odar. If you’re a fan of Odar’s stylized aesthetic, I’d recommend watching both films. The first, Quietsch, is a scant seven minutes long, but the second, Under the Sun, is about an hour long. While not as thematically substantial as the main feature, they act as a showcase for a very talented director.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars