For cryin’ out quiet

Si­lence is the theme of a film so still you re­ally could hear a pin drop, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -

AH, THE TYRANNY of the visual. Pat Collins, an un­clas­si­fi­able Ir­ish tal­ent, re­turns with an­other starkly beau­ti­ful, de­lib­er­ately con­found­ing quasi-doc­u­men­tary. Close your eyes af­ter a first view­ing and you will re­call widescreen shots of lap­ping seas, big skies and sprawl­ing wet­lands.

For­merly a critic and fes­ti­val pro­gram­mer, Collins brings a Rus­sian se­ri­ous­ness to his edit­ing and his com­po­si­tions. Sad men walk slowly across gor­geously for­bid­ding back­drops painted in earth shades. Weather be­comes a sec­ondary char­ac­ter in the drama.


You could en­joy this film while wear­ing ear­muffs.

That, how­ever, would de­feat the point of the ex­er­cise. Collins has set out to in­ves­ti­gate (among other things) what we hear when we think we hear si­lence. You cer­tainly couldn’t call the piece noisy. But the coo­ing corn­crakes and rustling reeds are as im­por­tant to the film’s ap­peal as are those great panoramic vis­tas. We haven’t been asked to lis­ten so closely since Brian De Palma and Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola teased para­noid sen­si­bil­i­ties with Blow Out and The Con­ver­sa­tion. That is where the com­par­i­son with ur­ban thrillers ends. It is al­ways clear that no­body is likely to get shot in Si­lence.

The film be­gins in Ber­lin, where a sound en­gi­neer (Eoghan Mac Gi­olla Bhride, also the co-writer) plans to make a trip home to the north­west of Ire­land. We know we are in main­land Europe be­cause we can here the sound of old-school, rick­ety trams in the back­ground. Eoghan plans to seek out ter­ri­tory far from the noises made by mod­ern men.

The film is di­rected to­wards a pre­de­ter­mined des­ti­na­tion. But it doesn’t have any­thing you could call a plot. The pro­tag­o­nist pot­ters about the coun­try­side and bumps into var­i­ous sages, ec­centrics and wiseacres. Some are ac­tors. Some play ver­sions of them­selves. A teenager dis­cusses his am­bi­tions to be­come a doc­tor. The pro­pri­etor of a small mu­seum fondly re­mem­bers the days be­fore elec­tric­ity. All the while, Richard Ken­drick’s cam­era sits back at a re­spect­ful dis­tance.

There are a few out­breaks of quiet baloney, but, for the most part, the con­trib­u­tors elo­quently, some­times ac­ci­den­tally ar­gue for the im­por­tance of place. Collins un­der­scores that con­ver­sa­tion by in­clud­ing care­fully cho­sen ar­chive footage of the lo­cale dur­ing far off, busier times. There’s less hu­man noise about now. There is more si­lence.

Collins’s ear­lier works in­clude an ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary on Ab­bas Kiarostami, and Si­lence fea­tures fre­quent echoes of that stub­born Ira­nian film-maker. There is the same sense of am­bling to­wards an elu­sive mean­ing. There is a sim­i­lar af­fec­tion for the more in­ac­ces­si­ble, less hec­tic cor­ners of the coun­try.

In Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us, a film-maker stomps about a quiet vil­lage try­ing to es­tab­lish a con­nec­tion on his mo­bile. Eoghan doesn’t bother with such fri­vol­i­ties. If any­thing, Si­lence seems set in an even more re­mote, even more pre-mod­ern uni­verse than Kiarostami’s folk dra­mas.

It would be dis­hon­est to sug­gest that Si­lence does not oc­ca­sion­ally give in to longeurs. Al­ways at­trac­tive, al­ways com­mit­ted, the film some­times strug­gles to jus­tify its own rig­or­ous re­serve. The pro­tag­o­nist – as much a pas­sive re­ceiver as is his dig­i­tal recorder – is so ob­tuse that you feel the urge to give him the odd vig­or­ous shake.

Mind you, when Collins does al­low in a lit­tle bit of old-fash­ioned, clas­si­cal film-mak­ing, the ef­fect is slightly jar­ring. The im­po­si­tion on the sound­track of of Fair­port Con­ven­tion’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes? – though still gor­geous af­ter nearly half a cen­tury – seems just a tad sen­ti­men­tal and more than a lit­tle lit­eral minded.

All of which just reaf­firms what a per­verse, im­pres­sively odd piece of work this is. It should be seen and it should be seen in the cinema. You won’t hear the si­lences prop­erly at home.

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