Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen)

THE SILENCE (Das letzte Schweigen)            B+  
Germany  (111 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Baran bo Odar                Official site [de]

Not to be confused with Ingmar Bergman's THE SILENCE (1963) or Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Iranian film THE SILENCE (1998), where this film may not stand with that elite company, however the Swiss director has worked as a second unit assistant director for the Maren Ade film THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003), an unusual German film told in a measured and meticulously distinct, realist manner with a truly provocative final sequence.  A film with no opening credits, here the opening shot surveying the gorgeous Bavarian landscape sets the scene, resembling the aerial shot in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997) following a car as it makes its way down a tree-lined highway, where this homage is likely not accidental, especially considering the content of the movie.  Writing, directing, and producing his first feature-length film, it also explores the unpleasant underbelly of an otherwise orderly and mainstream German society where people on the surface at least have nothing to fear, where children are often left on their own, probably resembling the quaint life in most small towns where everybody knows everybody else. Set in the pastoral heartland of Germany in 1986 with golden, waist-deep wheatfields extending to the horizon, we watch the tail end of what may be a snuff film, or at the very least, a pedophile’s sexual fantasy, where two men, Peer, Ulrich Thomsen, a Danish actor seen in Susanne Bier’s film In a Better World (2010), and Timo (Wotan Wilke Mohring) then hop into a car on the lookout for young prey, eying an 11-year old girl Pia (Helene Doppler) riding her bicycle alone down an isolated country road, where the girl is viciously raped and murdered in the wheatfields by Peer as Timo passively watches in a state of shock and horror at the outcome, her body dumped into a lake afterwards, where the killers were never caught, as Timo mysteriously disappears afterwards in a mixture of anger and personal disgust. 

The film jumps ahead 23 years, introducing an entirely new set of characters, including another young girl, 13-year old Sinikka (Anna Lena Klenke) who storms out of her parent’s house in a furious rage after a perceived invasion of her privacy, never to be seen or heard from again, as she becomes the victim of a copycat killing at the exact same location, where the police are again without a suspect for the crime.  The community is in an uproar, where the police have no answers for a seethingly angry public, but we also see the stunned reactions of the parents, including Elena (Katrin Saß) the mother of the first girl, Pia, who lives only a few hundred yards away from the murder site and has to undergo the experience all over again, where people are dumfounded and shocked at the gruesome similarities.  While only the audience sees the original perpetrators, everyone remains clueless about both crimes, where the community is aghast at having to re-live through this same horrible ordeal again.  Adapted by the director from the second of three Jan Costin Wagner novels, Das Schweigen (2007), all of which take place in Finland featuring the same lead character, Detective Kimmo Joentaa, a rather frumpy and hapless looking detective who in the movie becomes David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), a damaged soul still mourning the death of his wife from cancer, which happens in the first novel, Ice Moon (2003).  Perhaps because of his own personal experience, Detective Jahn, along with the steadfast help of his devoted partner, Jule Böwe as the pregnant detective Jana Gläser, they are the only ones in law enforcement who see this as more than a case to dispose of to make the public get off their backs, as there are larger implications that are routinely being ignored.  What is truly exceptional here is rather than invest energy attempting to solve the crime, the director is more interested in examining a cross section of people affected by the crime, where their response becomes the dramatic focus of the picture.  

The director doesn’t forget Peer and Timo, much older now and barely recognizable, where Peer remains at the same apartment complex working as the maintenance worker, where the audience immediately senses the obvious, the presence of a pedophile literally surrounded by unsuspecting children playing in the yard area that he maintains.  Timo on the other hand has moved to another city and is married with two children, where his wife Julia (Claudia Michelson) believes he’s an architect away from home for a few days inspecting a site location, while in fact he’s gone to visit Peer after the second murder, suspecting from the similarities that he’s involved.  Timo remains conflicted about the visit, still feeling guilty about the original incident that Peer has long since forgotten, yet their meeting together is the Macbethian stain from which all tragedy occurs, where countless more characters are still having to deal with the ugly ramifications of their actions.  The film is reminiscent of Tony Hillerman detective stories, where the overwhelming prominence of the natural environment affects each and every one of the characters, where the beautiful and tranquil landscape shots here are a stark contrast to the mental anguish and torment felt by entire community, much like the overriding grief felt throughout David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990 – 91), where the small town police work is really more of an excuse to reconnect several of the characters, alternately shifting various points of view, keeping the audience off balance while brilliantly interweaving the piano and violin in the stylishly original music of Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger as Pas de Deux.  While Wagner’s book is more like INSOMNIA (1997), a Nordic noir murder mystery that takes place in the Scandinavian summer heat under the perpetual midnight sun, introducing a dreamy, almost unreal quality to it, this movie is more interested in exploring and exposing the depths of human anguish, reconnecting people’s lives to deep seeded feelings that were long thought dormant, becoming a sad and sorrowful elegy for the dead.  Like Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), the film is an accomplished expression of community despair, somewhat disguised as a detective whodunit story, but instead becomes a complex study of grief, remorse, obsession, and the persistence of long pent-up guilt.   

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