The Silence

The Silence (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Two men, Timo (Wotan Wilke Möhring) and Peer (Ulrich Thomsen), in a red Audi make their way along a wooded highway when the driver takes notice of an eleven-year-old girl riding a bicycle. The car follows the girl and stops when she takes notice. Peer exits the vehicle, grabs the girl, and rapes her. He planned on letting her go but since she continues to struggle afterwards, he hits her across the face a little too hard and she is dead.

Twenty-three years later, a person commits a similar crime. In the very same field, the police find a bike, a bloody rock, and hair. David (Sebastian Blomberg) is one of the cops in charge of the investigation, but Krischan (Burghart Klaußner) feels he must be a part of it given that he was the detective who failed to solve the 1980’s case.

Challenging in content, confident in execution, and offering no easy answers, “Das letzte Schweigen,” based on a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, is a thriller with a lot of sadness which stems from various individuals who are touched by the crimes. What makes it particularly interesting is not only do we get a chance to see how the cops execute their jobs and how the victims’ families respond, we are asked to accept that the perpetrators have real thoughts and feelings toward the things they have done—and are wanting to do.

The picture juggles about a dozen characters with seeming ease. The two cops, David and Krischan, are in the middle of it all, but the rest are given appropriate depth despite some of them not having much time to grace the screen. Elena (Katrin Saß), the mother of the girl who was murdered in the first scene, is particularly memorable. Saß plays her with an intense anger and grief bubbling just below the surface.

What I will remember most is this: after she hears the news that a girl has been abducted, this time a thirteen-year-old, I looked at her face and sensed that she felt glad about the fact—even for just a microsecond. Now that a very similar crime is occurring, someone else knows how she felt more than two decades ago and so she feels less alone in her bereavement. In addition, maybe she thinks that this is a second chance for her to obtain closure. After all, the police did not find her daughter’s killer.

The manner in which the film jumps from scene to scene and character to character has a smooth and engaging flow. Only about once or twice, mostly toward the end, did I notice some of the more predictable techniques employed in order to build an element of shock or surprise. When director Baran bo Odar keeps away from what is expected, like presenting parallel scenes between the past and present, we experience the material through an original perspective.

Perhaps the most disturbing scenes involve Peer and Timo just sitting on a bench and watching children running, playing, and laughing. When they observe the kids like vultures, sometimes the images are in slow motion. Is that how it is like to be inside the mind of child molesters and murderers? And just when many of us may believe we have seen the worst, we are shown what they like to do indoors when the blinds are shut.

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