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The Silence

Posted by martinteller on May 27, 2013

On July 8, 1986, a young girl named Pia is riding her bicycle through a field.  A red car rolls up behind her, two men are inside.  The driver (Ulrich Thomsen) gets out, chases the girl and rapes her.  In a moment of panic, he kills her.  The other man in the car (Wotan Wilke Möhring) watches, stunned… it’s clear that he knew something was going to happen to the girl, but this is not what he had in mind.  He is unable to help with the process of removing the girl’s body.  23 years later, on the exact same day and in the exact spot, another girl disappears.  The only sign of Sinnika (Anna-Lena Klenke) is her bicycle, left in the same place that Pia’s was.  Now the police are trying to solve both crimes, two decades apart.  Involved in the investigation are David (Sebastian Blomberg), a detective who is still reeling from the recent loss of his wife to cancer, Krischan (Burghart Klauβner), the recently retired investigator of the first case, and Jana (Jule Böle), a pregnant detective.  Sinnika’s parents (Roeland Wiesnekker, Karoline Eichhorn) wait in torment to learn if their daughter is alive or dead, and Pia’s mother (Katrin Saβ) has old wounds reopened.

Baran bo Odar’s ensemble crime drama — his feature-length debut — is effectively moody, keeping the viewer on an uncomfortable edge as it deals with disturbing subject matter (including child pornography) without resorting to cheap or gratuitous thrills.  There is a confusing array of characters and events at first.  For a while I thought two actors were the same person because we don’t see one of them for a long time and they have similar features.  I don’t know if this was intentional or not (one other person in my group had the same problem, while two others didn’t) but either way, Odar takes time to clear things up while giving enough information to keep you intrigued.  It’s a very, very well crafted script as a thriller.

It’s not terribly original, though.  Most of it feels familiar in some way, whether it’s Silence of the Lambs or Memories of Murder or a number of modern police procedurals (shades of Jindabyne too).  One scene struck me as painfully cliché, but to describe it would probably be a spoiler.  While I wouldn’t say the film is a ripoff of anything in particular, I didn’t feel I was being given anything I hadn’t seen before.

While the film is quite adept as exploring tragedy and grief from multiple perspectives (Blomberg, Saβ, Wiesnekker and Eichhorn) it’s less successful in its attempt to humanize the pedophile characters.  Perhaps Odar was unwilling or unable to go there, but the Thomsen character wasn’t explored in any meaningful way, and Möhring does a lot of apparent soul-searching but I never felt like we were truly let inside.  The cast is strong — and Thomsen especially makes a lot out of not that much screen time — but in some ways the writing falls short.  The atmosphere is there, but the substance is not as meaty as one might hope for.

Nonetheless, it is a compelling watch and very finely crafted in its construction (although there are perhaps some minor plot holes, or at least nagging questions).  I would like to see what else Odar has up his sleeve.  Rating: Good (72)


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