Breach in the Silence (Brecha en el silencio): Film Review

Fundacion Villa del Cine
Dirty realism just about wins out over seen-it-before symbolism in this authentically grim tale of domestic abuse.

Venezuela’s Academy submission, by first-time director siblings the Rodriguez brothers, portrays a deaf girl’s struggle to be heard by her abusive family.

Home is where the hurt is for Ana, the deaf protagonist of Breach in the Silence. A raw, harrowing portrayal of an impoverished family in the grip of an abusive father figure, the film combines pain and pathos into a punchy but unsubtle whole which is solid when it’s getting on with the job of telling its story, but less sure-footed when aiming at symbolism. A strong central performance by Vanessa Di Quattro and some striking, dreamlike atmospherics are finally not enough to redeem a project whose execution can’t match its good intentions. Prospects are likely to be limited to Latin America, though some festival success so far suggests that more could follow.

Ana (Di Quattro) and her mother Julia work in a huge, impersonal sewing factory. Ana’s stepfather is the initially unpleasant, later completely monstrous Antonio (Ruben Leon), about whom we learn little other than that he works in construction, is generally drunk, and exerts a powerful sexual grip over the masochistic Julia, who mostly ignores both Ana, her younger sister Sofia (Caremily Artigas) and her kid brother Manuel (Jonathan Pimentel, listed on the screen credits as Jhonattan Pimentel). For Julia, her kids are little more than an obstacle to permanent sex with Antonio.

It’s clear when Ana shuns Manuel’s attempts to give her a kiss that she’s damaged: and she’s damaged because Antonio is raping her. (This happens on screen only once, but there’s the suggestion that it’s a regular occurrence.) The effect on Manuel of witnessing it happen make for some of the film’s most wrenching scenes. From here on, the tension builds and the question of whether Ana will take bloody revenge on her evil stepfather starts to form – but she doesn’t, with things reaching a conclusion that’s unexpected but awkwardly sentimental, given what’s come before.

Stylistically, the film is either challenging or all over the place, depending on point of view. Realistically-shot scenes mix with impressionistic sequences that border on the surreal, for example close-ups of various kinds of unpleasant liquid that may be intended to suggest the moral putrefaction at the heart of the family. Meat and vegetables are feverishly chopped in glistening close up, a facile index of the violence which runs through these people’s lives. A porcelain statue of a doll is broken and put back together; a too-obvious symbol of a broken woman, Ana, who takes the decision to put herself back together again. But such images also have a primitive, cumulative power and add up, on the unconscious level, to something pretty disturbing.

Since this is a film whose heroine can speak neither literally or figuratively, and who is basically an impotent observer of other people’s evil, the dialogue is slim and unenlightening, serving mainly to underline the brutishness of Antonio and Julia. The slightly off-kilter, partial view of the world of a deaf person is convincingly rendered by visual means, with shots coming in both black and white and color and from a variety of unusual angles, rarely the expected one. The soundwork, basically consisting of ambient music through which real-world noises struggle to be heard, is a persuasive enough way of rendering Ana's world, but it starts to irritate when it becomes clear that it is not going away: it is a practically permanent feature of the film.

Di Quattro stands out as the sad-eyed, seething Ana, her performance becoming more challenging and involving the longer the film goes on They live in a run-down barrio of, presumably, Caracas, but perhaps unusually for a Venezuelan movie, there is little direct social comment, and only the most oblique criticism of the wider conditions that have made this family so desperately screwed-up.

Production: Fundacion Villa del Cine, Vive
Cast: Vanessa Di Quattro, Juliana Cuervos, Ruben Leon, Caremily Artigas, Jonathan Pimentel
Directors: Andres Eduardo Rodriguez, Luis Alejandro Rodriguez
Producer: Manuel Perez
Screenwriters: Rafael Pinto, Andres Eduardo Rodriguez, Luis Alejandro Rodriguez
Director of photography: Antonio Garcia
Music: Clipzen
Production designer: Darwin Angola
Editor: Carlos Mendoza
Sound: Eleazar Moreno, Gregorio Gomez
Sales: Intramovies
No rating, 91 minutes