OUT 1 jan­uary CERT 15 / 161 mins

Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN -

Di­rec­tor Martin Scors­ese cast An­drew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Nee­son, Yô­suke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano

plot 17th-cen­tury Ja­pan. Two priests, Fa­ther Ro­drigues (Garfield) and Fa­ther Gar­rpe (Driver), set out to find Fa­ther Fer­reira (Nee­son), their men­tor, be­lieved to have com­mit­ted apos­tasy (re­nounced his re­li­gion). The pair strug­gle to sur­vive as they try to stay true to their be­liefs.

AT THE TIME of writ­ing, it is not clear what Pope Fran­cis thought of Martin Scors­ese’s Si­lence (the ru­mour is four out of five mitres) af­ter the spe­cial Vat­i­can screen­ing, but he surely must have ad­mired its burn­ing sin­cer­ity. Adapted from Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel (pre­vi­ously made into a film in 1971), it is a pas­sion project as per­sonal to the di­rec­tor as any­thing in­volv­ing Ital­ian gang­sters. From 1967’s Who’s That Knock­ing At My Door to now, Scors­ese, a failed pri­est, has con­ducted a 50-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how spir­i­tual feel­ing butts up against the flesh and blood world. This is the clear­est ar­tic­u­la­tion of his ideas to date.

On pa­per, Si­lence sounds like a de­vout-menon-a-mis­sion movie as Fa­thers Gar­rpe (Driver) and Ro­drigues (Garfield) go in search of their miss­ing men­tor (Nee­son). But the ac­tu­al­ity is lower oc­tane. Ar­riv­ing in Ja­pan, the priests are drawn into the strug­gle of ‘hidden Chris­tians’ clan­des­tinely prac­tis­ing their faith while the Shogu­nate In­quisi­tor (Issei Ogata) and his men re­lent­lessly stamp it out, chiefly through bait­ing Chris­tians to tread on fumi-e, cop­per im­ages of Christ, to re­nounce their faith. As you’d ex­pect, Scors­ese doesn’t flinch from cru­elty — men are drowned tied to cru­ci­fixes, women set on fire — but, work­ing with DP Ro­drigo Pri­eto, it is shot through with a painterly beauty. A God’s-eye view of a ship at sea. Sev­ered heads in the mist. The im­ages are as po­etic as the di­a­logue.

The priests get sep­a­rated and Garfield’s Ro­drigues takes cen­tre stage. The sec­ond half be­comes a bat­tle of wills as the In­quisi­tor’s in­ter­preter (a ter­rific un­der­stated Asano) tries to slowly sep­a­rate Ro­drigues from his faith through whis­pered mind games. It’s a film about Ro­drigues’ in­te­rior jour­ney and, in a ca­reer-best per­for­mance, Garfield re­alises it beau­ti­fully, his rock-solid be­lief slowly un­der­mined by doubt. When Ro­drigues is asked to step on the

fumi-e to save the lives of con­verts, it doesn’t end how you ex­pect.

If the film is steeped in Ja­panese cin­ema like Mi­zoguchi and Kuro­sawa, it also bears strong ties to Euro­pean heavy­weights. It is a rare Amer­i­can film that can stand in­tel­lec­tu­ally with Ing­mar Bergman but Scors­ese doesn’t flinch from the big ques­tions: chiefly why does God re­main silent as be­liev­ers are drawn into cru­elty in His name? As such, it’s a slow, tough watch. Some­times Scors­ese over­plays his hand (Garfield’s re­flec­tion in a stream morphs into Je­sus) but this is the di­rec­tor work­ing with­out his usual arse­nal. Save a twisty-turn­ing

Cape Fear cam­era move at a cru­cial point, there’s lit­tle in the way of trade­mark vis­ual py­rotech­nics, raz­zle-daz­zle edit­ing or in­tru­sive mu­sic. It’s as if Scors­ese doesn’t want any­thing to de­tract from his story. At a time when Chris­tians are still per­se­cuted in Syria, Egypt, Pak­istan and be­yond, when we ven­er­ate the creeds at the ex­pense of the mes­sage, he un­der­stands this tale from the 1600s couldn’t be more timely. ian freer Ver­dict less showy than The Last Temp­ta­tion Of Christ, more grip­ping than Kun­dun, the third part of scors­ese’s un­of­fi­cial ‘re­li­gious’ tril­ogy is beau­ti­fully made, stag­ger­ingly am­bi­tious and ut­terly com­pelling.

The Force was­nõt at its strong­est in 17th-cen­tury Ja­pan.

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