Silent Ones (A Csendesek): Sarajevo Review

Moody Eurodrama adrift on a plotless sea.

Dutch debutante Ricky Rijneke’s achingly arty thriller is visually ravishing, but lacking in drama.

A suspense thriller with barely any suspense, Silent Ones has an intriguing set-up and a stylish look, but it is badly let down by its shapeless plot and listless pace. The young Dutch writer-director Ricky Rijneke has previously won acclaim and prizes in Rotterdam, Cannes, Locarno and other festivals. Screened in Sarajevo last week, her feature debut also seems to be squarely aimed at indulgent festival audiences, since it is too esoteric and dramatically inert for any serious commercial crossover appeal.

Orsolya Toth stars as Csilla, a haunted young woman from a village in Eastern Europe where “there are no strangers”. The exact location is not specified, but she speaks Hungarian. Fleeing vaguely defined troubles at home to seek a new life in the west with her younger brother Isti (Fatih Dervisoglu), Csilla begins making and selling bootleg cigarettes for shady smuggling kingpin Gabor (Roland Raba). But after becoming separated from Isti in the confused aftermath of a car crash, she finds herself on board Gabor’s eerily empty cargo ship, fending off his creepy sexual advances while vainly searching for her missing brother.

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Probably best approached as poetic allegory rather than naturalistic thriller, Silent Ones drifts along with the languid, affectless dream logic of an upmarket perfume commercial. Sumptuously shot on 35mm, the arty visuals are a strong point: fields wreathed in mist, ravishing rural vistas, elegantly framed close-ups of Csilla crouched in an old tin bath. But these are scant compensation for an overlong and unfocussed narrative, which mostly involves the waifish heroine mooching around the ship’s spooky bowels while sharing her anxieties in half-whispered voiceover. “I’m trapped in a labyrinth,” she muses. “Sometimes I feel like it’s all a hallucination.”

Couched in Russian composer Andrey Dergatchev’s subtly subliminal score of ominous ambient drones, Silent Ones is scattered with teasing signposts towards a far more interesting film, from opaque subplots about people-smuggling to hazy hints that Csilla is stranded in limbo between life and death. The mournful voiceover, pointedly ambiguous Euro-location and ocean-going gangster villain also suggest vintage Lars Von Trier, notably The Element of Crime and Breaking The Waves. But Rijneke appears to be less interested in creating dramatic tension than in generating a constant low-voltage hum of anguished uncertainty. She succeeds rather too well.

Production company: Rotterdam Film

Producers: Dick Rijneke, Mildred Van Leeuwaarden

Starring: Orsolya Toth, Fatih Dervisoglu, Roland Raba

Director: Ricky Rijneke

Writer: Ricky Rijneke

Cinematographers: Jean-Paul de Zaetijd, Gergely Poharnok

Editors: Nina Petrovna, Ricky Rijneke

Music: Andrey Dergatchev

Sales company: Wide Management, Paris

Unrated, 97 minutes