Although it never digs too deeply into the complexities of grief, guilt, and the psychopathology of pedophilia that pepper its intricate narrative, The Silence has enough tastefully downplayed luridness, sufficiently interesting, if not overly complex, characters, and eye-grabbing cinematography to make Baran bo Odar’s movie a successful, if slightly too self-serious, bit of entertainment. Dealing with the consequences of an unsolved 23-year-old rape-murder of an 11-year-old girl in a small German community whose placid façade is once again shaken when a copycat crime awakens the long-buried memories of the earlier incident, the film unfolds as both sturdy cold-case procedural and mixed-bag multi-character psychological drama. If this psychology is sometimes of the long-simmering kind ingrained in tortured looking faces and rarely finding more telling expression, this agony is spread around between enough characters to make up for the slightly cursory engagement with any specific one.
After a brief introduction detailing the wheat field-set crime from 1986, the film jumps forward 23 years to the present, introducing a gallery of figures with various ties both to each other and the earlier incident. Among the agonized townspeople are the original perpetrators of the crime, one now a successful architect with a wife and children, the other still living a marginal life as caretaker of a large apartment complex; the parents of the latest victim, waiting to hear definitive confirmation of their daughter’s death; the mother of the original victim, sequestered in the solitude of her isolated home; and the various police charged with investigating both crimes, the most significant of which is a completely frazzled detective just returned to the force after a long sabbatical following his wife’s death.
Death is the common theme here, and it’s touched on in discussions of how to deal with grief and in the painful remorse of one of the (somewhat involuntary) perpetrators of the original crime, but mostly it manifests itself in a somber pall that Odar casts over the whole proceedings, a mood befitting the subject matter, but one he probably takes too far in including unnecessary details such as a child nearly suffering a possibly fatal injury when a trampoline breaks. Still, this slightly dour tone is the perfect backdrop for the director to skillfully weave together his varied narrative strands in a surprisingly entertaining medley. With the exception of a slightly flabby middle section, the director keeps the action moving perpetually forward, expertly using such devices as news broadcasts both as commentary and as a means to cut between the different characters and link them together. If the film’s ultimate psychological reveal—having to do with the ways pedophiles communicate their loneliness—is ultimately less revelatory than the movie seems to think, it doesn’t obscure the pleasures to be had in watching Odar orchestrating his vivid tapestries of death and its accompanying multi-faceted agonies.