A Somber Watch: Our Review of ‘Silent Land’

Posted in What's Streaming? by - May 27, 2024
A Somber Watch: Our Review of ‘Silent Land’

Director Aga Woszczyńska’s feature debut, Silent Land begins as its name might suggest – in silence.  Images of the Italian landscape where the film is set are quiet, only the slight rustle of wind in the trees is audible before a creaky malfunctioning window blind disrupts the solitude.  And it’s not the last noise that will disrupt the purposefully chosen quiet retreat for couple Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska).

Getting away from the renovation of their apartment back in Poland, the pair are looking forward to some rest and relaxation while their neighbours at home but instead, construction noises interrupt them.  But, when the pool at their rented home needs some noisy repairs, Adam and Anna feel the strain with each use of the jackhammer.  They’re about to feel it more, when a tragic accident befalls the repairman himself.

When discussing the pool, the man who rented them the home, tells them they have a “problem with water.” And that sentence seems to thematically weave its way through writers Woszczyńska and Piotr Litwin’s narrative.  On the surface you might see only a story about an unravelling couple, but Silent Land is a complex exploration of class, xenophobia, and morality.  The water might not be there for the pool to shine, but that’s not all that’s lost its lustre.  In this previously bustling tourist town, the military has moved in, and the surrounding seas are full of boats with migrants.

There are subtle and not so subtle signs of the locals’ intolerance to those fleeing their homelands, and Adam and Anna fit right in.  It’s in the way that they set the house alarm when the young Arab man fixing their pool is around. Or their lack of offering him a simple drink of water even as they comment that they can’t survive the heat.  But their indifference to the death of the young immigrant worker (Ibrahim Keshk) reveals the type of people that Adam and Anna truly are.  It’s simply an inconvenience to their holiday.

Woszczyńska cleverly reveals different versions of the accident, a verbal retelling not matching the CCTV footage at the home, which only solidifies the revolt in this couple’s inaction. They could have provided the man with CPR or at least tried any life saving measure, but instead they stood there.  Police however are apt to ignore their neglect, lest it causes even more issues for the tourist business.  No matter, the immigrant man had no family there anyway.  They remain silent on the matter.

If all of this makes you feel that Silent Land is a somber watch you’d be right.  Despite the picturesque Italian coast and almost constant sunshine, it is decidedly dark.  Film studies students could have a field day with this one, picking apart imagery and symbolism meant to only further highlight the horrible way we deal with humanitarian crises on a national and a personal level.  It’s a slow paced drama, full of slow panning shots (sometimes painfully so) that requires your full attention.

The good news is that Silent Land mostly earns that as Dymecki and Zulewska portray this ‘perfect’ couple with just the right air of superiority.  As they pack the fridge full of alcohol, expensive meats and cheeses, dressed in their expensive neutral clothing and as they run in lock step while ignoring the military transports that pass them by, you get the sense they just know they’re just that much better than anyone else.  The rules don’t apply to them.  And seemingly, they don’t.  It’s their inner turmoil that proves their downfall.

Silent Land is an assured and confident debut from Aga Woszczyńska, one that should hopefully pave the way for more of her complex work and intelligent commentary.  It’s impossible not to pull back the layers of this film.  When you do there will be some tough questions asked, some introspection required, but Woszczyńska is careful not to come on too strong.  The devil is truly in the details.

Silent Land is exclusively available on Film Movement Plus at filmmovementplus.com and Amazon Prime Video.

This post was written by
Hillary is a Toronto based writer, though her heart often lives in her former home of London, England. She has loved movies for as long as she can remember, though it was seeing Jurassic Park as a kid that really made it a passion. She has been writing about film since 2010 logging plenty of reviews and interviews since then, especially around festival season. She has previously covered the London Film Festival, TIFF (where she can often be found frantically running between venues) and most recently Sundance (from her couch). She is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics. When she’s not watching films or writing about them, she can be found at her day job as a veterinarian. Critic and vet is an odd combination, but it sure is a great conversation starter at an interview or festival!
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