Why is (or was) God silent is a key question for believers. Why was God silent when Christians were prosecuted and died for their religion in the 17th century in Japan? Why was God silent when Jews were prosecuted by the Catholic Inquisition and died for their religion at the very same time? Or when Christians fought and killed each other in the European religious wars in the same century? Or during the Holocaust? Or today when people are prosecuted, fly for their lives and die for their religion in so many parts of the Globe? Is (or was) God silent? Or maybe He did speak and we did not hear Him? Those are the questions asked in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Are these questions asked in a generic manner, or just limited to his own faith, and to the specific period he deals with? Are the answers the film gives convincing?
The answer may depend on the viewer’s close or remote relation to faith. The story of the two Catholic priests who are traveling in AD 1640 in Japan at one of the most cruel periods of persecution of Christians, their encounter with the different culture and religions, their fight to help the devote local Catholics who were continuing to stick to their belief, their own personal fight with the doubts and the apparent silence of the Divinity, their dilemma the ultimate choice that they need to make between saving lives and their own soul, between martyrdom and apostasy – all these may speak a lot to believers in general and Catholics in particular. From that perspective, this is the story of Via Dolorosa with a different ending. What if as viewer one does not belong to either of these categories? These viewers are left with a film of exquisite cinematographic beauty but with a slow and unconvincing story telling, quite surprising for a master director as Martin Scorsese is.
There is a secondary story here of the relationship between the priest father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and the local fisherman who helps and then betrays the two priests Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). It’s an extension of the Jesus – Judah story, a continuation maybe of the relation between the two described in Scorsese’s 1988 The Last Temptation of Christ, and one more work that deals with the story of Judah, part of a trend of ‘rehabilitation’ of the character, at least in films and books. I liked this part, and the acting in general (not to forget Liam Neeson who always fills any screen he is on). I liked less the long off-line monologue which becomes quite repetitive at some point, the ‘Deus ex machina’ off-screen voice that shows up at a key moment, and the odd epilogue that does not add too much to the story, is told in a different style and from a different perspective. Maybe it’s just Scorsese’s way of making sure that we place the story he is telling in the historical context? Did he really need this?
One of my friends wrote after reading the original version of my short review: ‘It is an experience more than a movie to watch.’ I agree with her. Seeing Silence is like visiting a church. Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers, everybody has a different experience, remarks and appreciates different things.
I am sometimes wondering about the bad choices made by one director or the other, or by one actor or another. When such a gathering of talents like Atom Egoyan – director of Ararat, Liam Neeson – star of Schindler’s List or Julianne Moore – four time nominated for an Oscar, share the same bad choice I am simply stunned. None of them is visibly on the decreasing slope of their respective careers, none was known to have huge debts to be obliged to accept any role, so why picking a film based on such a stupid and incredible story, with a bad taste that comes close to soft porn – and this is not because of the quantity of skin shown on screen but because the way the story is being told.
Actually the story of Chloe is so stupid it is worth being told in a few sentences. Suppose you are a successful gynecologist and you suspect that your husband of at least 20 years cheats on you. What is more natural than hiring a hooker to check on his behavior and tell you in details how she makes ‘progress’ in the relation with the husbie? When you are told that the inevitable happened you start being attracted by the hooker, or maybe it’s just revenge, or curiosity, but soon you will end by you cheating on your husband with her. And this is not all but I will spare the rest. Chloe not being the only strange relationship film coming from Northern border, the only question it arises to me is are really these Canadian such disturbed personalities, when it comes to intimate and family relations? If yes, I must have met the wrong and not-interesting Canadians during all my life.
The lead actors do their best but they seem all a little bit uncomfortable with the story and their roles. Julian Moore of all has the most difficult task, as she needs to give some credibility to the most unbelievable relationship story – she is brave and succeeds up to the point of making sense of her relationship with Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) whose motivations we never find out excepting the basic fact that she is really a Bad Girl. Egoyan makes at some point a directorial mistake which taking into account his talent I cannot believe to be unintentional, filming imagined scenes as a real ones – I call this cheating on audiences and I did not like it. There is a final twist that is supposed to create a persistent feeling of uneasiness in the audiences, but this feeling actually starts much earlier and for the wrong reasons.
I usually rely on the opinions of exquisite movie critics like Robert Ebert or James Berardinelli and it seldom or almost never happens to be in disagreement with one, not to speak both of them. Luckily I usually read critics opinions after seeing the film and so I did in this case as well, because I may have chosen to skip one of the most intelligent and well written action films I have seen lately. The story is not only well written and the pace of the action kept me on my edge for the whole duration of the film, but it also has logic and is credible, so I dare say that the two great critics got it wrong when they gave the two stars out of four treatment to the film.
The first sequences of the film introduce the viewers in the American-Has-Trouble-In-European-Big-City genre, with Berlin playing the role usually assumed by Paris. The hero is a biotechnology expert which in the first few minutes of the film loses his suitcase, his wife, and his identity. The losing of the identity is soon to be turned into the kind of situation where not only the hero starts to doubt his own self, but also the viewers start doubting what they have seen, or searching for the hidden signification. Another man has taken his identity, his wife seems to have become part of the plot or maybe she is forced to be one, a lot of people try to kill him, and whoever helps him is in mortal danger and does not survive much time on the screen. All this happens in a frozen Berlin in winter, and is filmed with a blueish filter that creates a metallic light atmosphere that just increases the anxiety. Acting is exact, Liam Neeson will not get another Oscar nomination for this role but he succeeds to make us care for him and so does Diane Kruger in the role of the woman who helps him, to find her life blown-up together with her flat in the action.
This is the fourth film of director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose first film, a piece of horror name House of Wax I also enjoyed. He proves here that he understands the rules of the genre and can make well-paced and efficient movies. The quality of the film comes however first of all from the quality of the script – Unknown is simply brilliantly written, the terrorism and Cold War sequels intrigue reminding Le Carre’s novels provides a logical explanation which put for me every event in place in a story of lost memory and identity that could belong to the Bourne series. My preferred critics were wrong this time.
About Roger Ebert’s extraordinary fight with cancer you can read here.