The Silence   

by writer/director Baran bo Odar

The original German novel Das Schweigen (The Silence) by Jan Costin Wagner thrilled me when I first read it. The prologue itself sets up an eerie opening that deeply disturbed me, and the book’s dense, nightmarish atmosphere, unusual story and bold set-up are impressive. The subjects and motifs (such as loss and mourning, guilt and atonement) are truly as disturbing as the downright existential contact, or communication disorders, between the characters and reach far beyond the tragic incident.

The Silence is a crime thriller that relentlessly closes in on the dark secrets of its characters. From various angles, the film shows the lives of six people whose destinies meet during their unfulfilled searches. The film uncovers the facets of a horrendous crime and shows the protagonists’ struggle with loss, powerlessness and guilt.

A part of the novel that spoke to me immediately is the suburbs, full of family homes. Everyone knows each other; the houses are very much alike. But no one knows the true faces of the people behind the doors. These suburbs are all over Germany, and probably all over the world. They are not tied to a particular place but to a feeling, an atmosphere one can find there. In my view, the houses appearing bright and tidy, the lakes and the summer in The Silence all create a beautiful, colorful and shining image that strongly contrasts with the story’s dramatic development.

My previous film Under the Sun was also characterized by strong images, as this is the definition of cinema for me: 'Dramatic stories told through expressive images.' I worked closely with Director of Photography Nik Summerer and developed a detailed storyboard. An important stylistic device we chose from the beginning was the high angle camera view. This way the characters appear as pawns on a chessboard, subjected to their destinies.

The loss of a loved one as the main theme; the issues of guilt and atonement; the unconventional formal realization; the multilayered characters; the nightmarish atmosphere—all this was influenced by Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, which I read when I was 12, its thrilling story sticking to me to this very day.

Another big influence for me is Lawrence of Arabia. I watched this David Lean epic at the age of 14 and was strongly impacted by the scene when Lawrence returns from battle and confesses to the general that he is troubled not because he has killed, but rather because he so enjoyed killing. I really think everyone has something good inside but also something evil, and it's part of us. To control that, that's humanity. Some people cannot control it or something happens and you lose control and all of a sudden you're a monster. But I truly believe there are no monsters in the world, though, only human beings who do monstrous things.

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