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The Silence -- Film Review

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MUNICH -- Swiss-born director Baran bo Odar's second feature film is a finely crafted psychological drama that uses a brutal crime to delve into the depths of human misery, with boxoffice projects looking as glum as its characters' outlook on life.

In the same spot where 23 years ago young Pia was brutally raped and murdered, another girl's bicycle is found. Its owner, 13-year-old Sinikka, is presumed to have met the same brutal fate. Although her body has not turned up yet, speculation about the culprit ensues among the people of a quiet German town: a retired cop who handled the first case, his successor, Sinikka's parents, Pia's mother and the first killer's former accomplice.

Under the hot summer sun, they all try to cope with their uncertainty, overwhelming emotions and a variety of skeletons in their respective closets, trying to keep the past at bay, the present bearable and their gloomy future from taking shape.

While the thriller-elements of the unsolved crime will certainly be at the forefront of any publicity campaign, Odar does not show much interest in the whodunit, with a hooded murderer appearing occasionally in dreamlike sequences, but rarely in a way that makes us wonder who he or she is. Instead, he concentrates on his stellar ensemble, to great effect.

Ulrich Thomsen plays the former rapist with a chilling calm, while Wotan Wilke Mohring delivers an award-worthy performance as his former accomplice, who is also a pedophile, but has chosen not to act on his affliction. Burghart Klaussner excels as an alcoholic detective unable to deal with retirement while Sebastian Blomberg plays a cop so saddened by his wife's recent death that he is barely able to function.

All their characters are broken, beaten down and filled with an emptiness they cannot seem to shake with the rapist's calm and naively sunny disposition being the notable exception.

Production values are of a high standard, starting with Nikolaus Summerer's excellent cinematography, which employs helicopter and crane shots of the beautiful landscape effectively, but also creates intimate, moody visuals fitting for the film's more personal moments. The score by Michael Kamm and Kris Steininger's band Pas de Deux tends to be headache-inducing, but this is clearly intended and fits the direction of the film.

Robert Rzesacz editing is fine, even though by the time we have finally reached the end of this 118-minute tour de force and find out that the question of who committed the crime is less important than the why, we might wish he would have spared us about half an hour.

Venue: Munich International Film Festival
Production companies: cine plus Filmproduktion, luthje schneider Film
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Wotan Wilke Mohring, Katrin Sass, Burghart Klaussner, Sebastian Blomberg
Director/screenwriter: Baran bo Odar
Based on the novel by: Jan Costin Wagner
Producers: Maren Luthje, Florian Schneider, Jorg Schulze, Frank Evers
Director of photography: Nikolaus Summerer
Production designer: Christian M. Goldbeck, Yesim Zolan
Music: pas de deux, Kris Steininger, Michael Kamm
Costume designer: Katharina Ost
Editor: Robert Rzesacz
No rating, 118 minutes