Sunday, July 06, 2014


Silence is an Irish film, directed by Pat Collins from 2012, which I seem to have missed noticing completely at the time. Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride plays a sound recordist living and working in Berlin. You first experience Berlin entirely through the sound he's recording, sounds drowning inside sounds, man made noises chugging,rumbling and screeching. He receives some sort of commission to record sound back in his home county in Ireland. Its a particular quality of sound they want, quiet sounds, sounds with no man made presence in them. It's never explained for whom he's doing this. There is a conversation with his girlfriend in Berlin, where she asks why he needs to do this. Significantly what he says gets drowned out by the sound of a freight train. Something is unsettled, not right with him, and their relationship. This takes you all of five minutes into the film.

The rest of the movie  continues as if it were a hybrid of an audio documentary, with visuals added as a beautiful afterthought. As the film progresses you find yourself paying closer and closer attention to the qualities and varieties of sounds. Sometimes its natural sounds, then sounds of someone singing or speaking, interspersed with old film recordings of a past Ireland, then the roar and thrum of wind, rain and sea, the sounds of a landscape speaking whilst mankind listens. As one voice says, silence is the space between noises. At various points he bumps into people, local folk giving their own slant on their quiet lives rooted in their sense of place and their belonging. The film, if its about anything, it is this search for a sense of belonging through sound.  The sounds of a place provide texture and definition to our experience of this. The main character has moved away, maybe kept himself away from home for fifteen years. Where indeed does he truly belong now?

By the end of the film he returns to his island home, a place so suffused with familiar sounds that he appears to stop recording them. What was previously a vicarious acquisitive collecting of sound, becomes more and more a personal recollection of it. The film concludes with him visiting the family home,now empty and much dilapidated. As he walks around its musty, damp, almost windowless rooms, the sounds of distant voices half remembered and indistinct are background sounds, as if emerging from out of the walls of the house. Recollected sounds of a place once filled with human activity and noise. Sounds of past lives, of his past life.

Silence, as a film, is more poetry than narrative, more an evocation than representation. Suffused with beauty and a poignancy that is never forced or laboured over. It reminds me of Tarkovsky at times, or John Cage's 4 mins 33 seconds, where what one hears during the pieces duration, are the sounds of whatever is happening in those moments in the concert hall. Like Cage, this film subverts the artifice that's obviously there. Mixing story and reality,actors and people playing themselves, it blurs the distinctions between drama and documentary, subtly and to really superb effect. Its a simple pure delight, that I suspect will repay repeated viewing.

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