Home Video Hovel: The Silence, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
July 8, 1986 should have been an ordinary day for Pia the plucky teenager. As she rode her bike through the farmland, a red car pulled up behind her. A man stepped out from the car and shouted “Hello!” His friend sat in the car, watching. In quick succession, Pia is chased, raped, and killed. As I watched this intense opening to The Silence, I admired the clinical, almost retro staging of the scene by writer and director Baran bo Odar. If this was a scene from an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the rape and murder would have been filmed in garish close-ups with screams aplenty. In The Silence, the rape and murder is filmed in a long shot masked by the grassy farmland. The acts of violence are suggested, not relished.
Adapted from the novel Das Schweigen by Jan Costin Wagner, The Silence looks at a copycat crime involving Sinikka, another teenage girl, 23 years after Pia’s murder. A German film from 2010, it carries on the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope in that the killer and his accomplice are revealed in the very first scene. The question isn’t who killed Pia, but why the mystery remained unsolved for over two decades. Sebastian Blomberg gives an intense performance as David, the unstable police officer combing through the wrinkled records of the past for clues to the present crime. He teams up with Krischan (Burghart Klaußner), the detective who investigated the original case. As they interrogate persons of interest linked to the original murder, they open up a flood of memories most would prefer to forget.
The matter of fact dialogue and the hypnotically ominous score by Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger bring a melancholy tone to the proceedings. Even the villains Peer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring) come across as more disturbed and lonely than one might suspect. There are a pair of scenes where they are being questioned separately in their homes in which the suspense is based not on what they say, but they possibility of what they could do. The awkward gaps of silence in the conversations work in tandem with the droning music to make The Silence the polar opposite of David Fincher’s American remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. At times ironic, Baran bo Odar’s direction never tries to be hip. He tells a story and he tells it well, and that’s more than enough.
The clean cinematography by Nikolaus Summerer reveals the German suburbs to be as detached as the characters feel. The narrative flashbacks to the briefest of moments fill in some of the gaps of what happened during after Pia’s murder. Much is unexplained, which makes the raw tone of the film all the more engrossing. A suspenseful thriller of the highest order, Baran bo Odar’s The Silence takes a standard copycat murder plot and makes it seem new by focusing on the despair and sadness that violence leaves in its wake.