Misery finds plenty of company in ‘The Silence’
The trouble with tragedy is that it is harder than one might think for it to elicit emotion from a third party. Sometimes, an audience remains at a distance despite the harrowing event befalling the characters in front of their eyes. And so it goes with The Silence, an impeccably acted but ultimately un-engaging mystery.
Silence, adapted by Baran bo Odar from Jan Costin Wagner’s novel and denoting Odar’s feature directorial debut, is a then-and-now flick. We first see two men track down an eleven-year-old girl in a field; one murders her while the other looks on. Nearly a quarter-century later, another young girl vanishes in what appears to be a copycat crime, stringing together the lives of grieving family members, detectives, and killers alike, all of whom are broken in their own, not unfamiliar ways.
If Silence so far sounds fairly by-the-numbers, that’s because it is, in every sense of the genre, procedural. Odar’s script hits all the expected notes in dealing with the aftermath of a grisly crime, but the net result is less than symphonic. Loss and estrangement permeate pretty much the lives of everyone attached to this case, whose resolution seems pre-ordained thanks to the film’s overt preamble. David (Sebastian Blomberg) is the detective who becomes obsessed with solving the current case as a means of distracting himself from his own recent widowhood. Burghart Klaussner’s Krischan, meanwhile, cannot let go of the earlier, unsolved crime despite his retirement. “It was a real pain in the ass,” glibs Elena (Katrin Sass) about the loss of her daughter 23 years ago, a wound that Sass shows us still bleeds internally even as Elena maintains a stiff upper lip. Even the two murderers we first meet, Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring), remain affected by their crime as they go about their lives.
Silence is smart until it isn’t. The notion of the past constantly nipping at the heels of the present is not a revelation. And the idea of suffering and proximity to danger fails to cast a suspenseful shadow over his film, even as an innocent young child injures himself on a trampoline. (We get it: harm lurks around the corner for everyone. Let’s not get too carried away.) And it is eventually a mistake to focus on the inner lives of the film’s tangled web of characters instead of making the central mysteries more engrossing. Still, Odar wrestles wonderful performances from his ensemble. Blomberg, Möhring, and particularly Sass are all quite credible in rendering people whose lives have become untethered, showing what it is to be lost in plain sight.
Sympathy comes for all, but empathy has a more difficult time entering the room. Odar’s portrayal of quiet mourning is eventually too, well, silent for its own good. All of these characters behave in ways that are psychologically justified, but they suffer from a lack of exploration. And most are stoic, so while Odar steers clear of melodrama, there’s also a lack of any kind of dramatic potency to shepherd his story along. And since we know early on whom the perpetrators of at least one crime are, there is little suspense (the thorough explanation by one character of another’s motive provides an unnecessary denouement as well). One roots for the film and its talented players onscreen and behind it, but Silence is a murder mystery that is all too clinical. Like the events of the film itself, sometimes bad things happen to good people.
The Silence is currently playing at Cinema Village.
Trackback from your site.