By Filip L
The Silence, by Swiss filmmaker Baran bo Odar and adapted from a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, is a deeply unsettling art house film about friendship, loss of friendship, and unrequited love. If you enjoyed ‘The Vanishing’ (the Dutch version, not the terrible American remake), and Michael Haneke’s ‘The White Ribbon’ or his intensely psychological ‘Funny Games’, this is a film you will surely like. It was released in Germany in 2010 and remains practically unknown. The film stunned me: how can a film about 2 paedophile assailants be, at its heart, about our need and yearning for friendship?
The film begins in the year 1986, and starts ominously. Inside a drab apartment on a housing estate, an 8mm projector shows a movie alluding to illegal pornographic content. This is followed by an aerial shot of a red car driving down a country lane, proceeding to follow a child on a bicycle turning into a wooded path. What follows is the graphic depiction about the rape and murder of an 11-year-old little girl beside a wheat field. The killer is Peer Sommer, an affable Danish caretaker, who has lived in Germany for 8 years. Watching the crime from the red car’s passenger seat, frozen in shock (or perhaps repulsedandattracted?), is Peer’s fellow paedophile and only friend, young university student Timo. Disgusted by the crime he has just witnessed, Timo abruptly cuts all ties to the older man, moves away, changes his identity, and embarks on a ‘normal’ life; a successful life, as an architect, with a big house and a beautiful family of his own.
A flashback shows Peer’s and Timo’s first meeting on a parkbench overlooking a playground. The older Peer recognises Timo’s proclivities in an instant, and the pair become friends. There is a heartwrenching scene where Peer runs after the bus Timo has just boarded to leave town; the audience becomes aware of the love Peer has for Timo, and his depth of despair at having lost him. It is this loss of friendship that tears him apart, not any thoughts of Timo reporting the crime he witnessed.
23 years later to the exact day, a nearly identical murder claims a young girl at the same spot. Is the new crime related? How could it not be? David Jann, a recently widowed, oddball police officer, starts putting the puzzle together and it becomes clear that the new murder will help solve the old one. David is aided by Jana, apregnant detective (there is perhaps an intended parallel to Fargo here), and they both report to Grimmer, a Chief Inspector ofinfuriating idiocy. It is only towards the end of the film that we realise how brilliant David’s insight into this case is. I for one felt that David’s grief over the loss of his wife had given him the gift of second sight.
What if the second murder didn’t have a sexual motive? What if it was merely meant to be a signal from Peer to Timo to let him know he loved and missed him and to get in touch?