Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Silence: Crime and Angst in Germany

For cops, déjà vu can be extremely unpleasant.  When thirteen year old Sinikka is found brutally murdered in the exact same spot and on the exact same date as young Pia was twenty-three years earlier, it obviously means something.  Unfortunately, since the previous case remains unsolved, the police have no prime suspect, but there is plenty of guilt, grief, and general angst to go around in Baran bo Odar’s The Silence (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Unlike the German police, viewers know right from the start who the killers are, because Silence shows us almost immediately.  It was two socially awkward men drawn together by their sick desires.  One actually did the deed, while the other cowered in the car, disappearing shortly thereafter.  Newly retired detective Krischan Mittich never came close to catching either of them.  Of course, when the new victim is discovered he wants back on the case.

Mittich the bridge-burner is not exactly welcomed back by the new boss.  Only his former colleague David Jahn finds time for him.  Frankly, the rumpled cop probably never should have been involved in the investigation in the first place.  Still profoundly grieving his late wife, Jahn is still a basket case, who just happened to answer the call on his first day back.  Yet, like most grungy looking detectives, his intuition is quite keen.

While not exactly a whodunit, the nature of the game played in Silence is a mystery Baran bo Odar lets unfold slowly but sure-footedly.  Indeed, viewers might very well have pitched debates whether the ending represents justice or not.  Regardless, it is certainly distinctive and light years removed from anything Hollywood would countenance.

Sebastian Blomberg is remarkably forceful as Jahn, but never showy.  He is clearly coming apart at the seams, but in a restrained, even repressed way.  Burghart Klaussner’s Mittich is an appropriately charismatic blowhard, who looks like he was born to play an ex-cop.  Yet, Katrin Sass truly dominates the film as Elena Lange, the mother of the first murdered girl.  Her performance is too smart and multi-layered to simply be dismissed as the film’s moral center, though she largely serves that function too.  Banshee fans will also note Ulrich Thomsen (often appearing under a ridiculous wig).  It is a disturbing but sophisticated turn that really gets under one’s skin down the stretch.

Silence is about as existential as crime dramas get while staying within genre.  Cerebral in tone and deeply pessimistic of human nature (befitting a German film from a Swiss filmmaker, featuring a Scandinavian co-star), it is recommended for fans of ambitious, psychologically complex thrillers.  It opens this Friday (3/8) in New York at the Cinema Village.