Thursday 26 January 2017

Review: Silence

Year: 2016 (U.K Release: 2017)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver

Synopsis is here:

It's fascinating to me that after dividing audiences with The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), in which we watch a man sell his soul for greed with the greatest of ease, Martin Scorsese decides to follow up his rowdy and wildly successful dark comedy with a quiet passion project about two priests doing what they can to save their own souls.

What we have here is a religious heart of darkness. An odyssey about spiritual nourishment which strangely left me longing. Silence is tough to "get" and you feel it's length. But it doesn't transcend in the same way Tree of Life (2011) did, or nor does it ever becomes as replenishing as Of Gods and Men (2010).

Having recently seen The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), I was astounded by its simple elegance. A silent movie which as profound as it is simple. Perhaps due to the limitations, or simple artistic choice, the film's stripped-down nature and decision to shoot in mostly tight close-up was a masterstroke. Capturing the defiance, grace and catharsis of a woman, whose faith is put to the very test.  Silence is a meticulous exercise of craft in which very frame is a painting, every inch of blocking is precise and yet that seems to be what restrains it. It's beautiful to watch, with Scorsese highlighting his love for the moving image, even though the roving camera, we know him for is knowingly still. Here it is patient. Less reactive. It's a stillness, which feels likened to Ozu than the rock and roll director of Mean Streets. It is a choice made for contemplation, although I'm not sure it captures the emotion that flows through the likes of Carl Theodor Dreyer's film

Marty's so-called "lesser" modern works have often entertained due to the director being enraptured with the pulp of cinema. The long-distilled conversations that occur in Silence seem to try and force their way into the bloodstream, and at the films best, it moves with a quiet drama. However, I'm never transported as I am here than I am with his more trashier entries, maybe because despite their rich cinematic foundations, they appear to be more effortless. Silence's glacial pacing and combative conversations are never drawn out to the point of tedium, but they are not always easy to digest, even at when the conflicts reach their peak of friction. Silence often feels more like a sometimes-satisfying thesis, more than anything. At times the experience is draining, at some points compelling, but through its running time, it always felt distant. Even more so now after time contemplating.

Smaller gripes include Latin accents which fall out of sync while the English from some of the Japanese cast is at times difficult to pick up. While these are minor issues, they still all hold an ability to keep a viewer at a distance from its stoic protagonists. Both Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield give high tier performances, but neither performances are delivered to reel you in. Compared to Willem Dafoe complicated performance in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), both Driver and Garfield, never engage us at the same level. With previous Scorsese films, we could cope with the distance of his lonely men, often due to their villainy. With Silence, much of the space placed between the protagonists and the audience is due to arrogance. With this, it is difficult to walk alongside them. Unlike the ethereal Tree of Life (2011) or even visceral The Exorcist (1973), which both find ways to invoke ways to connect with the human element. This stays extremely difficult until it's coda.

In a world that is becoming increasingly more secular, a film like this feels like a diamond in the rough. For the viewer, it will be easy to see Silence as difficult to get to grips with. Sombre, solemn and deliberately paced. This is a film which requires its viewer to do the work, and even then, the rewards may feel fleeting.