Music Box Films // 2010 // 119 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // August 2nd, 2013
"When does it stop?"
The Silence (Das letzte Schweigen) is an excellent film, though I don't know if I'll want to watch it again anytime soon.
Germany, the summer 1986: a young girl named Pia is raped and murdered in a wheat field, her abandoned bicycle the only thing left behind. The killer is never found. 23 years to the day later, a teenage girl goes missing, her bicycle abandoned in the same field where Pia died. The community is shocked, and the local police scramble to find the girl using scant clues from the decades-old case. Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring, Valkyrie), a middle-aged family man, sees the news coverage of the crime and has a suspicion that it's all a message aimed directly at him.
Baran bo Odar's The Silence does something uncommon for a thriller: it tells you who the killer is within the first five minutes. That isn't to say that there's nothing suspenseful in the movie -- in fact, it's a gripping and ultimately harrowing experience, but it's one that pushes the procedural aspects of solving the crime back and drags the emotional toll suffered by the characters to the forefront. The Silence has a lot of thematic and structural parallels to the Sean Penn's The Pledge, a haunting affair in its own right. Both films also dip their toes into the murky waters of unseemly subject matter, but instead of keeping the results localized to a few characters like in Penn's film, The Silence shows the malaise infect an entire community.
The Silence follows several characters' storylines, all of them connected to the disappearance of 13-year-old Sinikka. David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg, The Baader Meinhof Complex) is one of the central detectives working on the crime. He's a good cop, but his wife's recent death from cancer has left him a disheveled mess. Elena (Katrin Saß, Good Bye Lenin!), the mother of Pia, watches as old wounds reopen as the murder of her daughter is brought back into focus. Sinikka's parents' lives fall apart as they wait for news of their daughter's fate. And Timo, who has struggled with a secret for decades, is pulled back into the story after he goes to visit an old friend (Ulrich Thomsen, Kingdom of Heaven). The cast does an outstanding job, especially considering the subject matter (and how easy it could have been to for the cast to over-emote). This gives the movie an incredibly depressing -- even oppressive -- atmosphere that starts in the first frame and lingers 'til the end.
As a whole, the film is really well made. Cinematographer Nikolaus Summerer captures some beautiful images, especially in timelapse shots of the German countryside that punctuate the film. But he's also able to use normally idyllic scenery to convey a cramped, uneasy atmosphere. The composing team Pas de Deux furthers this tone: their slight score is pretty and unnerving. Bo Odar also has a great sense of composition, using the sound, visuals, and slightly jumbled chronology to really strike a mood of overwhelming melancholy.
Music Box Films' release of The Silence offers up a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which is excellent: the outdoor shots in particular are wonderful, and details are sharp throughout. There are a few jittery spots, but they're thankfully brief. The Dolby 5.1 German track is crisp, clear, and balanced. In addition to the theatrical trailer and four cast interviews (which are nice, but short), Music Box also provides bo Odar's first two films. Quietsch, bo Odar's debut short, is a blast of avant-garde split-screen insanity, and Under the Sun is an hour-long trip through the most surreal summer of a young boy's life. The former is forgettable, the latter quite interesting.
The Silence is a fine picture, but also an unbelievably depressing one. Music Box gives this film a solid release that's worth checking out...if you don't mind curling up in a ball afterward.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Music Box Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Films