Director: Baran bo Odar
Screenplay: Baran bo Odar
Producers: Altynai Koichumanova, Cedomir Kolar, Thanassis Karathanos, Marc Baschet, Karl Baumgartner, Denis Vaslin
Starring: Sebastien Blomberg, Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Katrin Sab, Burghart Klaubner, Sebastien Blomberg, Karoline Eichhorn, Roeland Wiesnekker
The Silence, to be released theatrically in the UK on October 28th, is the debut feature film of Swiss director Baran bo Odar, and follows the story of two identical murders 23 years apart in rural central Europe.
Where many murder mysteries are who-dunnit – or even how-dunnits – The Silence is a different take on the genre, foregoing the customary chasing of puzzle-pieces to focus more intently on the impact on the people involved. The victims’ parents. The victims’ town. The various police. Even the killer and his possible accomplice. In fact The Silence is really a moody ensemble piece that happens to involve a murder and a missing girl presumed dead.
After opening in a cornfield in the 1980's and the - possibly unintended – killing of a young girl (Pia) by unassuming caretaker Peer and the younger Timo, The Silence jumps forward 23 years to the disappearance of another girl (Sinnika) in similar circumstances: a discarded girl’s bicycle is found in the exact same spot in the exact same field. The near identical nature – except for no body - makes some police believe they have a chance to solve a case two decades old, intrigues the older Timo, now married with children, and provides fresh torment for the first victim’s local mother, Elena. On top of traumatising the parents of the missing Sinnika, of course, whose house is in the process of renovation in the midsummer heat.
The Silence then follows each of the characters as they try to understand the recent events, throwing up demons in the past and present. For example Timo is sure Peer is behind the new disappearance, but cannot go to the police. Sinnika’s parents remain in dwindling hope for their missing daughter. And the police try to keep the case classified as a missing person, even though many believe her to be dead.
The web of characters is so wide that within the police various personalities get close attention, including a retired old policeman who never solved his case and a pregnant young policewoman, although the key police officer is David, a sensitive younger policeman crushed by the recent death of his wife. He alone suspects greater mystery than the case presents, and the existence of an accomplice.
In other hands this broad mix of characters may have resulted in thinly drawn clichés, but each melodrama is underplayed or viewed from a distance, with Odar holding the pace languid, and often keeping the camera itself back to increase the realism feel.
While Timo is the focus of the film, receiving occasional flashbacks on his dubious friendship with Peer, in all cases the characters remain the focus, and their tale is rich and moving for it's intensity.
However this is not without cost. By taking great care in the characterisation, the suspense is lower than you may expect for a crime story, and the plotting cuts a couple of corners in key scenes later in the film. It is an understandable side effect of the story that Baran bo Odar is telling, but some air of mystery is maintained by holding back the details of the second killing. This keeps the audience as in the picture as Timo as to exactly what happened: fairly certain, but unable to be sure.
The experience is a tough journey – in particular for Elena and Sinnika’s parents - and watching it is also not an experience that leaves you in a hurry. Some of the imagery of the cornfield and fun-fair clown is a little melodramatic, but for the most part The Silence is understated in tone, and superbly acted by the ensemble cast.
In sum, The Silence seems to be following a pleasing trend of intricate European crime dramas – e.g. Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy and Denmark TV’s The Killing, while also taking a very personal approach for a watchable and moving story.
More of a “what-impact” than a who-dunnit, but intricately done.
The Silence is released on 28th October 2011.
Review by Jonathan Guyett