Friday, May 29, 2015

The Silence of the Sea Review

I love silence. It can be such a welcome and unusual respite from the chaotic nature of life. It's the reason I stay up late at night, to be able to watch a film in peace and then enjoy a few minutes of absolutely blissful quiet. The kind where you can hear a pin drop if you listen closely enough. 

Silence can also be overwhelming though. The kind where your own thoughts and your own heartbeat can reverberate through your soul and drive you insane. A person can say many different combinations of words to hurt you, but when they remain silent it can sting so much worse. That level of vitriol, when someone you know isn't able to look at you nor speak to you because of their disgust over who you are or what you have become...that is powerful enough to destroy.

The Silence of the Sea (Le Silence de la Mer) is the bold and courageous debut work from legendary filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville. The story takes place during 1941, a time when the world was at war and an elderly Frenchman and his niece are forced to give a Nazi soldier named Werner Von Ebrennac shelter against their will. The two refuse to speak to him or even acknowledge his existence, carrying on with their day in silence as Werner talks and talks and talks to himself or anyone willing to listen. He wears his uniform and it is meant to represent a symbol of strength and power, yet something as simple as the lack of approval from two people he hardly knows eats away at him. Their silence is deafening. 

I have seen plenty of war films and even more specifically plenty of work with the backdrop of World War II, but Melville does something here that I almost didn't think was possible: he makes a Nazi soldier sympathetic, and it works. Werner opens up to the man and his niece and it becomes clear that he has doubts about the war and what his side believes in, and there is a fascinating scene in which he brings up the premise of Beauty and the Beast and it is easy to connect it to The Silence of the Sea. Here we have a man who is living with an older man and a younger woman forcefully, and early on the tension and anger is palpable, but over time they see the warmth and compassion of the "monster" they had thought so little of before. Sounds familiar and it is an interesting fairy tale to draw a parallel to.

After doing some reading up on this film after I finished watching, I noticed some material on its extremely limited budget and the fact that so much of it takes place in a single room and it's funny, I honestly didn't even notice either factor. I think this is a testament to Melville, that he did so much with so little and he used space and lighting so effectively that I never felt claustrophobic or trapped by the lack of set pieces. What was achieved here is a remarkable and deeply meaningful debut.

I look forward to later tonight when I can embrace the silence, but I am comforted that it is a rarity to cherish rather than the unavoidable norm. When it is unusual, the lack of sound is peaceful and calming. When it is everything, when you desperately want to hear something but silence is used as a weapon...

Silence can leave you empty. It can leave so many things unsaid. Silence can hurt.


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