EUFF Review: 'Silence'

(Ireland, 84 min.)
Dir. Pat Collins, Writ. Pat Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, Sharon Whooley.
Starring: Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride.
The average speed of sound travels a distance of 1236 km/hr. That’s awfully fast. The sound of silence, then, must be very slow. It’s painfully slow, in fact, as evidenced by Silence, a film that is lethargically paced both narratively and aesthetically.

Silence might be just about the worst film to watch in a crowded movie theatre. The film, which follows Eoghan (played by Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) as he travels across the Irish countryside recording places that are free from man-made sound, barely registers a note on its soundtrack and has a similarly languid tempo. The shots linger as the crickets chirp in Silence, but the awkward rustling of anxious moviegoers soon interrupts intellectual stimulation. With an appropriately static style to match its absent narrative, Silence demands attention from its viewers; however, it’s difficult to return the favour when one can sense anxiety from neighbours shifting impatiently in their seats. The muted soundtrack is outmatched by twitchy legs and squeaky seats. One might enjoy Silence best in the quiet comfort of one’s own home without the distraction of noisy neighbours.

If one can give full attention to the film, it’eld great rewards. tention to the film, it'neighbours. rt of one'ats. he favour when one can sesne as a similarly languid tempos likely to yield great rewards. The film has a tangible sense of place and transports the viewer to the beautiful Irish countryside thanks to its arresting visuals and carefully textured sound design. Likewise, an early conversation—one of the few in the film—between Eoghan and a deep-thinking countryman stresses the philosophical implications of Eoghan’s quest. Namely, Silence seeks to capture that omnipresent sense of absence in our lives and reclaim stillness not as a loss, but as a virtue. Without any sense of forward motion, Silence asks viewers to bask in a running time of meditative calmness.

One’s thoughts flow wildly while watching Silence, so it’s too bad that the film makes its point so early on. After some expository moments of soundscaping, Eoghan stumbles upon the aforementioned morale proffered by the wise man of the Irish hillside. The film then drifts aimlessly, providing one example of natural serenity after another. It’s both calming and haunting, but also trying and taxing. Silence is so slow that Ginger & Rosa seems like a racecar match by comparison. Much of the film simply features Eoghan sitting in a field with a microphone as the grass billows around him. Viewers who enjoy cinematic nature might be in luck; however, Silence shows that there really is an art to all those shots of grass in a Terrence Malick film.

Silence might therefore have been more powerful as a short, maybe by offering the opening act as a stand alone film and then cutting to black immediately after the barman’s speech to leave the viewer in a sense of literal absence that underscore the film’s main point. Instead, Silence leaves viewers in a void with little to fill it besides the restlessness of their fidgety peers. The film might encourage some viewers to take a walk, instead of sitting to appreciate the silence. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make any noise? 

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Silence screened in Ottawa as part of the Canadian Film Institute’s European Union Film Festival