The Silence (Music Box Films, NR)

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thesilence 75It’s part police procedural and part psychological study, with more than just genre thrills to offer.

 

 

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Director Baran Bo Odar wastes no time getting down to business in The Silence: a parade of thriller motifs (ominous music, rustling curtains, the slapping of a reel-to-reel projector that has come to the end of its film) is followed by a Shining-like overhead helicopter shot following two grim-faced men in a red Audi. Spotting an 11-year-old girl (Melina Fabian) riding her bicycle down a gravel road, they track her down; one man (Peer Sommer, played by Ulrich Thomsen) rapes her while the other (Timo Friedrich, played by Wotan Wilke Möhring) looks on in horror without trying to stop it. Rather weirdly, Peer apologizes before killing her, and then turns all business as he throws her body into the trunk, after which they drive off in a cloud of dust.

The murder remains unsolved for 23 years—until a strikingly similar crime is committed in the same location. Detectives David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg) and Janna Glaeser (Jule Boewe) are assigned to investigate the case, and retired detective Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaussner) becomes informally involved, as well—he worked on the original murder case, and still feels guilty that he wasn’t able to solve it. The new crime also stirs up others in the community: It motivates Timo to initiate contact with Peer, and you learn what their connection was at the time of the original crime (and hence, why Timo may have chosen to not come forward). For Elena (Katrin Sass), mother of the first murdered girl, the second murder brings back memories of her own daughter’s death.

The Silence is an arthouse thriller, a type of film that seems to be primarily a European specialty these days. It’s part police procedural and part psychological study, with more than just genre thrills to offer. Like Michael Haneke’s 2009 film The White Ribbon, The Silence insists on looking beneath the superficial normality of a small community and uncovering its less savory aspects. The presence of Klaussner, who played the pastor in The White Ribbon, is another tie to Haneke’s film. The “silence” of the film’s title refers not only to the silence of death, but also to the corrosive effect of imposed silence, whether that means locking your grief away instead of dealing with it, or failing to come forward with information about a crime, because in the process you might be forced to reveal something else that you’d rather keep hidden.

Odar, who also adapted the screenplay from a bestselling novel by Jan Costin Wagner, has a firm grasp of the technical aspects of filmmaking, as well as the conventions of the horror film, and uses both to tell a story that keeps you right on the edge of your seat. In the heightened reality created by The Silence, you have to give the writers a break when it comes relying on the long arm of coincidence, but it’s not so much of a stretch that the mood is destroyed. Except for a somewhat talky last half hour, Odar proves himself a master of visual storytelling, and as such provides an example for young filmmakers everywhere.

Cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer knows how to make a perfectly everyday scene look ordinary or menacing, as the film requires, and editor Robert Rzesacz does a great job of cutting among the different storylines while keeping the narrative moving forward. Finally, the music by Pas de Deux (Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger) works perfectly with Summerer’s cinematography to create the appropriate mood for each moment of this film. | Sarah Boslaugh

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