Monday, March 12, 2018

The Silence

You think The Silence (1963), recently revived at Film Forum, refers to an absence, in particular the absence of God with which the filmmaker was notably obsessed (The Silence is the third of a spiritual trilogy comprised of Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light). The ticking of the clock, a constant leitmotif in this film as in The Passion of Anna and Fanny and Alexander is like a fragile heart, which will one day stop, with no one there to rewind it. But several minutes into the long early take in which you're presented with both frontal and dorsal views of the young boy Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom) in the iconic scene of his hands touching a train window, you realize the title also alludes to a genre and era, whose conventions the director expropriates. As Johan prowls the corridors of a fin de siècle hotel reminiscent in its mystery of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad (1961), he’s actually inventing stage business with his body silhouetted in shadows. He makes the acquaintance of the hotel’s waiter (Haken Jahnberg) who performs a mime with a sausage. If you’ve seen Beckett’s only piece of filmmaking, Film, you’ll be reminded of Buster Keaton’s antics, the way in which he passes time, in the face of imminent oblivion. But within the silent film context, The Silence recalls a work of early cinema, the surrealist masterpiece, Un Chien Andalou  (1929) in its mixture of aggression, sexuality and humor. You of course have the blatant sexuality of Johan’s incestuous mother Ester (Ingrid Thulin), whose narration of her sexual exploits foreshadows, Bibi Andersson’s famed monologue in Persona. Then there’s the game of spiritual hide and seek played by our tiny hero with his toy pistol. This in turn culminates in his discovery of a comic circus act in the form of a troop of midgets. It’s as if Bergman had taken Dali and Bunuel with him to central casting. Ester’s sister Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) is dying but her illness is as much spiritual and physical and it's truly a Kierkegaardian Sickness Unto Death. Words do eventually make their way into the mise en scene. Johan, for instance, says to his mother enigmatically “your feet they’re always walking you  around,” However, our beleaguered travelers have arrived in an unidentified foreign land where they’re not conversant with the language. Disconnection is the axis on which the movie turns and the voyeurism and exhibitionism for which The Silence is known are not expressions of eroticism, but of the failed attempt to connect either through emotions or words.

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