Review: A Certain Kind of Silence
- Czech director Michal Hogenauer’s first feature film takes a sterile approach to telling a perverse story about families and manipulation (and maybe something else)
If the fact of emigrating and moving in with an unknown family to work as an au pair can already be terrifying in and of itself, the Czech debutant Michal Hogenauer turns it into a veritably strange and disconcerting nightmare in his film A Certain Kind of Silence [+see also:
interview: Michal Hogenauer
film profile]. The picture, which had its world premiere in the East of the West section of the 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, takes an experience embarked upon by many of our young people (young women, in particular) to tell a perverse, dry and minimalist tale on the power of manipulation.
The viewers enters into this family following in the footsteps of Micha (an impressive Eliska Krenková), a young Czech woman who, in an evocative scene, arrives in a generic European city aboard a ferry, where a deafening frenzy of car horns blare out from below deck as the film’s opening credits roll. And it is within a reverse version of the dualism in this scene that Hogenauer's ideas unfold: while the viewer listens to nothing other than silence, crazy events unfold; initially they’re off-screen, but they become ever more present as the film progresses.
Indeed, Micha is deprived of her freedom when she reaches her new home, whereupon the mother (Monic Hendrickx) decides the au pair should change her name to Mia. While everyone is sat down at the table ready to eat lunch, the father (Roeland Fernhout) calmly watches the clock, waiting for the exact moment when the family can start to eat. The son, Sebastian (Jacob Jutte), is impassive as he observes his new baby-sitter, initially only going so far as to cast her indifferent looks. The coolness portrayed in these scenes materialises into lines such as "love means nothing, zero" when talking about the tennis scoring system, or "a family isn’t a democracy", as the father tells the young Czech woman.
The accumulation of evidence leading us to believe that there’s nothing healthy (or legal) about this situation all links back to the very beginning of the film, where we see a police interrogation centred around a somewhat changed Mia, who has, it seems, adopted the coldness, but also the demeanour of the family. Mia tries to explain the extent of her involvement in certain events, which take some time to be shown on screen, but which leave quite an impression when they finally materialise. This deliberate narrative silence carries over into the final credits once the film is finished, where the (only too real) inspiration for everything we’ve just witnessed is revealed to the audience, but which we won’t elaborate on out of respect for its creators.
The aesthetic choices made by Hogenauer, which hinge upon Gregg Telussa’s greyish photography and geometrical shots, not to mention the stoicism of the performances and the minimalism of the mise en scène, all come together to create a certain impact. But a greater development of the director’s ideas might have helped the film to become more than just the sum of its parts. Regrettably, it could be argued that A Certain Kind of Silence, which is clearly indebted to the disconcerting cinema of Michael Haneke, Yorgos Lanthimos and Ulrich Seidl, is somewhat lacking in personality; a personality which might otherwise have helped the film stand out in the way that it probably should have.
(Translated from Spanish)
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