Bee’s Bergman Diary: The Silence

This is entry number 6 and I decided to watch The Silence (1963), which is the third in a series of thematically related films, following Through a Glass Darkly (1961) and Winter Light (1963), which is sometimes considered a trilogy by critics and cinephiles alike. Ingmar Bergman himself stated that ”These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly – conquered certainty. Winter Light – penetrated certainty. The Silence – God’s silence – the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy.” While Bergman referred to the “Silence” of the title as “God’s silence,” I personally believe that the silence refers to the lack of communication between the protagonists, the two emotionally estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, (Ingrid Thulin & Gunnel Lindblom).

The film’s plot is relatively simply; two estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna’s 10-year-old son Johan travel to the Central European country on the verge of war. We meet the trio as they are travelling by train. They are arriving in Timoka, a town in a country with a totally incomprehensible language. Johan asks Ester what a small sign on the window means, but even though she is an interpreter, she does not know the language, our first introduction into the film’s theme about a lack in communication. As she answers Johan, she has a coughing fit which stains her handkerchief with blood. Anna tries to help her, but Ester pushes her away.

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Due to Ester’s sickness, Anna and Ester have decided to stop for a time in Timoka, until Ester is better able to travel. They arrive at a strange, large and desolate hotel where they three of them all encounter the hotel floor porter (Hakan Jahnberd), Johan explores the hotel and meets a travelling troop of performing dawrves. Ester gets drunk and chain smokes in her bedroom. And Anna, drifts aimlessly around the city, attending a theatre show featuring the dwarves, and witnesses a couple is having sex. Upon her return to the hotel, Ester confronts her sister and the two have an argument, resulting in Anna demands that her sister stop her spying, and insists that she leave her alone.

Later on during the same evening, Ester tells Anna that she and Johan should leave and she will follow them at a later time, when she feels better. Anna refuses, not out of compassion for Ester, but probably because she has another rendezvous later that evening with a young waiter she met earlier in the day. The evening drags on, and the trio find themselves battling to have their voices heard, as war erupts outside. It would seem that everyone is suffering from a lack of communication.

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Many have complained about the film being uneventful and dull, which is laughable. Yes, the film does seem longer than its runtime of 95 minutes, but this is because the material is so dense and so much happens even though it may not be in the terms of epic plot twists and reveals. Evey facial expression and/or vocal response have multiple interpretations, and deals with the importance of communicating with the ones we love. The Silence is quite a hard film to watch, and one might describe it as desolate. However, it two central leads give an outstanding performance, and Bergman manages to capture a tense atmosphere that keeps us engaged, and there’s so many layers to explore within this film that it is one that I will revisit, because I am pretty sure I will see something new.

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