The Silence | Film reviews, news & interviews
First major feature by Baran bo Odar is gruelling but hugely impressive
Having won early acclaim for his student feature film Under the Sun, Swiss-born but Germany-based director Baran bo Odar has taken a further leap forward with his commercial debut, The Silence. Based on a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, it's the story of the hunt for the killer of 13-year-old schoolgirl Sinikka Weghamm, whose disappearance uncannily mirrors that of 11-year-old Pia Lange 23 years earlier.
Though the story is naturally concerned to some extent with police procedure, Odar's real interest is in the corrosive, unending effects of loss, loneliness, grief and guilt, which affect many of the characters in a variety of ways. Elena Lange (Katrin Sass) has never fully come to terms with the loss of her daughter Pia, and the new investigation of the missing Weghamm girl brings fresh waves of grief crashing down on her. David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), one of the policemen investigating the case, is still reeling from his wife's death from cancer, and the powerful emotions unleashed by the investigation push him to the edge of losing control.
Recently retired detective Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaussner) is still obsessed by the Pia Lange case, which he investigated two decades earlier but never solved. He can't help himself from butting into the new investigation despite being ordered to back off by the lead detective, Grimmer (Oliver Stokowski). He desperately wants to atone (missing girl Sinikka, pictured right).
This isn't a whodunnit, and Odar opens the film with a straightforward and brutal account of Pia Lange's fate. She was intercepted while cycling across a cornfield by Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo Friedrich (Wotan Wilke Möhring). Sommer raped and killed her while Friedrich stood by, horrified but unable to bring himself to intervene. They then drove the girl's body away in Sommer's red Audi and dumped it in a lake.
Yet Odar has been able to find nuances and shades of grey even in his presentation of the paedophile duo. Friedrich, though prey to his sexual urges which are fed by Sommer's supply of child-porn films, is steadily torn apart by what he is and what he's done, though he has moved away from the site of the Lange killing and tried to build himself the semblance of a conventional family life. It's Jahn (pictured left) who will later contend that the new killing wasn't another sexual crime - Sinikka Weghamm wasn't raped - but a kind of perverted cry for help from Friedrich's as-yet unidentified murderous partner, left isolated for 20 years after Friedrich cut off all contact. Friedrich has received Sommer's message loud and clear, but he can't live with the consequences. Jahn gets no thanks for his theory from a police department keen to wrap up the case and turn a blind eye to inconvenient loose ends.
At two hours, The Silence is slow and broody but accumulates huge emotional force. Much credit is due to director of photography Nikolaus Summerer, who uses rich, saturated colours and majestic panoramic framing to bring a sense of tragic loneliness to pristine summer landscapes. Unusual overhead angles and judicious deployment of slow and accelerated motion lend an additional sensation of time being out of joint, and of a world turning with tremendous unease. When they're doling out the gongs they could also give the nod to composer Andre Matthias, whose soundtrack is sparse but chillingly beautiful.
The jigsaw is completed by the exemplary performances Odar has coaxed from his cast (UIrich Thomsen as Sommer, pictured above). All of them have prestigious track records in European film and TV, and collectively they deliver a masterclass in low-key ensemble playing. Often the camera will just linger on faces to catch passing nuances of grief or fear, and some of the scenes of Sinikka's parents (Karoline Eichhorn and Roeland Wiesnekker) as they try to comprehend what's happening to them are almost impossible to watch. Much more will be heard from Herr Odar.
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