There are two sides to every secret, especially when the truth behind the secret is a lie.
Also know as Le Pacte du Silence, The Pact of Silence is an astounding film in the modern gothic tradition. Even if you don't like foreign films, The Pact of Silence is worth watching.
Facts of the Case
Gérard Depardieu (City of Ghosts) plays Dr. Joachim Ferrer, a Jesuit priest whose service to the church is a safe haven from his violent past. He finds himself treating Sarah (Élodie Bouchez, Stormy Weather) a young Carmelite nun who is suffering from inexplicable abdominal pain and delusions. Recognizing symptoms of repression, Joachim begins a personal investigation and finds that Sarah shares her secret with someone else: her twin sister Gaelle (also Bouchez). The world of intrigue that the investigation draws Joachim into could cost him his faith if not his life.
The success of The Pact of Silence hinges largely on the actors' performances. In order for us to believe this story, we must to believe Depardieu's performance. The role of Joachim, a priest who is falling from faith, is central to the story. If Depardieu cannot convince of Joachim's doubts and growing feelings for Sarah/Gaelle, then the story becomes merely a farcical jab at the modern church and faith. Of course, we are not disappointed. Élodie Bouchez does not really separate her characters well: neither Sarah nor Gaelle seem to have separate and distinct personalities. This could be a deliberate device in the story, as it does allow the exploration of identity, but it also created some confusion. During most of the film, the only mechanism for distinguishing between Sarah and Gaelle is the length of the women's hair. Although Bouchez does not distinguish her characters well, the chemistry between her and Depardieu is undeniable. She does an excellent job conveying both love and desperation. There are two minor characters worth noting: Mére Emmanuelle (Carmen Maura, How to Be a Woman and Not Die in the Attempt), and the psychiatrist (Isabelle Candelier). Both women, while they play supporting roles, are very important to the mood of the story. Maura's performance is chilling and Candelier's performance is warm. Both are protective of one of the sisters: Mére Emmanuelle because she wants to, the psychiatrist, because she has to.
The Pact of Silence is also a scrutiny of identity and the soul. Two of the main characters, Gaelle and Sarah, are identical twins; they also share more then just DNA. In addition to their own language, they share each other's pain. Joachim even goes as far as suggesting they share the same soul. This of course, is a preposterous notion; after all, Sarah is a cloistered nun and Gaelle is serving a prison sentence for a very horrible crime. Yet at the end of the movie, they appear together, identically dressed and undistinguishable. One of the girls sacrifices herself for the other, so that she may start her life over again in happiness, but which one? Gaelle is the one who wants the opportunity to start her life over, and not much about Sarah is known since she was ill during most of the film. Yet, even though Gaelle wants the opportunity to start anew, she is the stronger of the two and seems much more capable of committing the final courageous act that will save her sister. Whichever way the final moments of the film are interpreted, during those moments, the twins cease to share a unique identity, and become one if not in body, at least in their souls.
The film is also an interesting commentary on faith and desire. Father Joachim is a man who seeks solace from a dark past in his faith. Nonetheless, his obsession, first with Sarah and then with Gaelle, slowly ebbs away his foundation. He replaces his faith in the church with faith (or obsession) in Gaelle and the idea that her past is not what it seems. This shift in faith is especially interesting because it comes at a time when Father Joachim finds that his efforts on behalf of the church have been recognized (they allude to the Catholic version of a promotion). So we find Joachim, having been very devoted to his faith at a point in his life where he will be recognized for this devotion, is exchanging his faith in the church for faith in the goodness of a woman he is treating. It is almost as if he is sacrificing his soul to save the soul of another.
This was a visually stunning film. Shot mostly in Spain and Portugal in older locations, the film's crumbling environment really lends to the mysterious atmosphere. The video transfer was excellent the colors are true and the shadows are deep. As well as being visually stunning, the film has an amazing audio track. The dialogue is clear, and even though this isn't a major action film, the soundtrack does make a pretty good use of the wide range of 5.1 surround sound. It really does provide the feel of a cloistered convent at times. The film really didn't offer much in the way of extras. There was a commentary track with the director and actress Élodie Bouchez that I found very interesting. It mainly seemed to focus on the shooting of the film but there was a little discussion of the story. There were also trailers for Identity and Darkness Falls in addition to the original theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The beginning of the film was definitely confusing. While the confusion didn't necessarily detract from the story, it was difficult to tell on the first viewing that the shifts from the convent to the prison were telling the concurrent stories of twin sisters. The shifts more realistically looked like a flashback to a repressed memory that one of the sisters was revisiting.
The Pact of Silence was an amazing story about identity, the soul, and faith. It may not be one that you'll watch over and over, so this one's a probably a better rental. At least at first.
Columbia is kindly thanked for including a director's commentary on a foreign film. Both Columbia and The Pact of Silence are free to go. This court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Director Commentary with Élodie Bouchez
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