Monday, March 4, 2013

THE SILENCE: Baran bo Odar's quietly gut-wrenching German film on guilt & obsession

It's a murder mystery, all right -- but more about the human inability to face oneself than any kind of who-done-it. It's also a police procedural, albeit one led by a pompous, lazy, nasty and inefficient boss. A story of what the loss of children does to their bereaved parents? Absolutely, and also about one man's guilt and another's (the actual guilty party) obsession with finding his "friend" again. There are no spoilers above, as we know the murderer and his accomplice from almost the first scene. Yet, THE SILENCE -- a quiet, creeping little movie that cares more about character than car chases -- holds you in its dense spell from just about first moment to last.

That spell is a dark one -- but not, thank goodness, impossibly bleak. Yet its message -- the silence of the title -- is clear and strong, demonstrating how fear-inducing silence about things that must be told can wreak a kind of unseen havoc on individuals and communities, leaving awful, pleading, unremitting grief in its wake. This is very strong stuff, and yet Swiss filmmaker Baran bo Odar (shown at right) manages to make his points and yet completely avoid the ham fist. As director and adapter of Jan Coster Wagner's original novel, he places any moralizing into that two-word title, letting the story and characters play out in all their strange, sad, warped glory. This leaves us, once again, with that queasy-making feeling that we too often don't really know, not just our helpful, kind neighbors and/or employees but the person with whom we share a bed.

As a filmmaker (this is only his second full-length feature) Odar knows his stuff. His views of closed doors and how these can hide character, as well as the forbidden, are masterful, as is his sense of pacing. He also draws fine performances from his entire cast, who work together (sometimes necessarily apart) like a fine ensemble.

Most famous (to American eyes, at least) will be Ulrich Thomsen (two photos above, from In a Better World and Fear Me Not) as at least one of the killers, with Wotan Wilke Möhring (at right, just above) as his accomplice and/or nemesis. Sebastian Blomberg (below) makes a very good dogged investigator, suffering from his own special grief.

My one quibble with this film has to do only with the fact that the filmmaker and his make-up people (on the budget that was clearly available to them) could not find a proper way to de-age his two lead actors in the earlier scene and/or over-age them a bit later so that the 23 years that pass between the time periods show up a bit better in the actors' visages. (The wigs, below, in their younger days simply don't do it.)

In fact, I kept imagining that Herr Möhring must actually be his own son, because he looked so much the same, even after almost a quarter-century. Mr. Thomsen on the other hand, looks ever better and more youthful in his older state. Well, he has taken, he explains to the policewoman interviewing him, to riding his bike!

But don't let this minor cavil stop you from seeking out The Silence, which is masterful is so many ways. From Music Box Films, the movie opens this Friday in New York City (at the Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (at the Nuart), and will then work its way around the country over the weeks to come.  Click here and then click on THEATERS in the task bar halfway down the screen to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and venues.

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