Domestic despair

What is it that she has been maintaining a silence on, how has it come to affect each one of them individually, and the family as a whole, forms the core of Joachim Lafosse’s 'Un Silence' (A Silence).
Un Silence (A Silence)
Un Silence (A Silence)

Joachim Lafosse’s Un Silence (A Silence) begins on an intriguing note. An air of mystery envelops things as Astrid Schaar (Emmanuelle Devos) is summoned for an urgent conversation with a cop/investigator (Jeanne Cherhal). All you can gather from the exchange between the two is that something devastating has happened in the Schaar home involving her lawyer husband Francois (Daniel Auteuil) and son Raphael (Matthieu Galoux). Meanwhile, Astrid keeps harping on the fact that she was the only one who knew of Francois’ problem and had never breathed a word about it to anyone.

What is it that she has been maintaining a silence on, how has it come to affect each one of them individually, and the family as a whole, forms the core of the film. As the narrative progresses, you encounter a universal theme of how secrets and lies of the family elders can lead to disastrous consequences for the young. Astrid, who has maintained her silence on Francois’s unforgivable transgressions for thirty long years, decides to side with justice eventually, on seeing her family reach the verge of an implosion and collapse.

On the face of it, the Belgium-Luxembourg-France co-production is a stormy story brimming over with not just brutality but deviance and perversion as well. But it is told with an antithetical elegance and restraint. The scandal at the core doesn’t turn lurid. In fact, the characters—the criminal, the victim, the one who hides the crime, and even the media covering it—are all impeccably measured. The story unfolds gently, the unobtrusive and non-invasive camera pausing ever so gracefully on the faces of actors, their close-ups powered by the eloquence of fleeting expressions.

A Silence lives up to its title. It communicates a lot by saying very little. The moderation in filmmaking and the artistic distance with which the Belgian filmmaker Lafosse approaches the subject makes it even more dark and disturbing than it already is. The essential crime, and the victim, are never shown on screen but the weight of it hangs heavy on the film. The film is notable for the many ideas it throws, like how imperative it is for a man of justice to be brought under trial to face the consequences of his misdemeanours. Even more telling is the irony of him talking about a failing judicial system when all along he has been subverting it in the vilest possible way himself and getting away with it.

Then there are larger arcs that are relatable across cultures—the bourgeoisie proclivity to not wash its so-called dirty linen in public, to brush things under the carpet and the consequent perpetration of guilt and shame through generations in a family. The biggest takeaway for me is how it underlines the fact that our biggest icons could have feet of clay. That seemingly decent people could be little else than wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing. That the public and private persona of the same person could be wildly different.

The performances keep the momentum going. Galoux in his maiden appearance is like the moral core of the film, the restlessness and righteous anger reflecting as much in his languorous body language as on his striking face. His Raphael is someone you feel deeply for, grappling with adolescent angst as well as the actions of those he loves.

On the other hand, there is something reptilian and inscrutable that Auteuil invests in his character which works to the film’s advantage. Hearing him impassively acknowledge his wife and son for standing by him sends a chill down the spine.

It’s Astrid who comes across as an enigma. How can a woman accept her husband for crossing the limits of human decency? Not just that, to even live with the ordeal of his guilt for thirty years? But keeping one’s own personal response to her situation aside, the fact is that Devos’ intense, stoic presence and unflappable demeanour is the truth of a lot of women stuck in toxic relationships for various reasons. Hopefully, one day, like her, they will also find a way out of them.

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The New Indian Express