Saturday 12 May 2018

Cannes 2018 - Los Silencios by Beatriz Seigner

Having fled the Colombian conflict, in which her husband was killed, Amparo (Marleyda Soto) moves to La Isla de la Fantasia at the border of Brazil, Colombia and Peru with her two children to start a new life. They soon discover that the spirits of the dead roam around freely in their new surroundings.

There has recently been an epidemic of films that "do" social with no lightness of touch or cinema in them, in which a heavy subject blackmails its audience (and festivals' jury members). No such thing in Los Silencios. This is no social or ethnic tourism, and there is a refreshing lightness of touch despite the subject. Yet we immediately feel invested in the life of the family, their daily struggles, some small but significant, such as when Amparo who, upon registering her son at a new school, finds herself unable to afford the compulsory school uniform Neither her of the film wallow in self-pity, the film approaching these scenes with great dignity.

Amparo encounters various levels of help and warmth with the people in her new life, from an unsympathetic shop assistant and a greedy lawyer to an understanding new boss, whom she manages to convince to give her a very physical job usually reserved for men. None of them ever comes across like a caricature or a plot device however, they all feel very real (indeed many actors are non-professionals and local residents), at all levels of the social spectrum.

Yet, while the past violence is always in their minds and in the film's shadow,  Beatriz Seigner balances their tough everyday life with a languid gentleness. The location the film was shot in certainly is not a pretty setting, yet she achieves a meditative and contemplative quality, especially with some quieter and atmospheric scenes at night (the soundscape is particularly impressive), that never feel exotic for the sake of it, but again makes the film feel very lived-in.

Beatriz Seigner as a director is very open to foreign cultures, she has travelled a lot, her first film, Bollywood, was set in India, and this shows. She picked a location that is at the border of three different countries, and her film is at the crossroads of some very different influences from around the world.

The introduction of the supernatural among social realism is beautifully handled. Comparisons with Apichatpong Weerasethakul will be inevitable, and understandable, in fact the director name checks him in the press kit, alongside Tsai Ming-liang and Jia Zhangke, but the Brazilian director very much has her own style. While the Thai director tend to veer towards abstractness, and more recently, a strong political undercurrent, Beatriz Seigner, while infusing her film with an equally committed political message, is more interested in the individual lives of people and their struggles. Ghosts enter the frame and freely walk among the living like a memory that suddenly reappears, and even interact with them in all simplicity. There is a particularly affecting scene in which Amparo is seen lost in her thoughts when all of the sudden her dead husband approaches for a fleeting hug before leaving once again.

The film slowly builds up towards a mighty emotional pay-off, once that is fully earned yet, again, handled with just the right level of restraint, with a couple of quietly unforgettable shots.

Los Silencios is a beautiful tale of physical and spiritual transience, and Beatriz Seigner is an exciting new voice in world cinema.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Directors' Fortnight.

Los Silencios.  Brazil/France/Colombia 2018. Directed by Beatriz Seigner. Starring Marleyda Soto, Enrique Diaz...

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