Silence is a film that is hard to categorise in Irish film terms. There is a feel of a documentary about it, which is hardly surprising given Pat Collins’ background in documentary filmmaking. It is a work of fiction with a strong grounding in reality. This is a film on its own terms: not aping other countries successful genres. Yet in Irish box office terms (with a somewhat limited run in cinemas) it is doing quite well. This film seems to have been marketed as an art house and not just as an Irish film. This is a bold approach, letting the film speak on its own terms, not weighing it down with the pressure of being just ‘Irish’. There may well be a lesson here about how we market the Irish films in general. This is a discussion for another time perhaps.
Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) is a sound recordist living in Berlin when he gets a job offer to record sound in rural landscapes away from man-made sounds in Ireland. As narrative plot and story goes, this is pretty much it for Pat Collins’ Silence. But plot is not particularly important in a film such as this. It is an episodic, impressionistic film and the emotional and physical journey undertaken by Eoghan is the heart of the story. The film begins with Eoghan recording loud and bustling sounds in the busy city of Berlin and ends with him in a quiet house in the northwest of Ireland. How and why he gets there is the heart of this quite beautiful film.
Silence is a film that touches on many themes: such as the need in some people to get away from a busy world: the need to try and get back to nature. Yet there is also a sense that it in Silence, Collins is hoping to recapture a simpler time, when people perhaps led more meaningful lives. As much as Eoghan tries to escape the world and man-made noises to reconnect with the land he has been away from for 15 years, it is impossible to get away from what is inside of him. There is the indefinable part of him that wants to remember who he is and where he came from. His journey is ultimately within himself.
This is a beautiful film to look at. Ireland has rarely looked this good on the big screen. Yet this is not done in a ‘greatest hits of Ireland’ tourist board way. The cinematography is there as a reminder to the main character and indeed the viewers of the beauty of the country we live in. What is represented here is not the country as shown by bad American films (P.S.I Love You) but an Ireland which is intensely beautiful and wild. The landscape becomes rougher and more wonderful as Eoghan makes his journey home. This journey is interrupted by meetings with various people along the way. This serves as a breaking of the silence of the film and as a chance for Eoghan to explore to conversations and songs the country he has missed in the years he has been away.
Silence is a film that will not be to everyone’s taste. It requires a re-adjustment to slip into the pace of the story. This pretty much puts it out of reach of the Transformers 3 crowd who would doubtless run a mile from it. But anyone with an interest in cinema for grown-ups (remember when films were made for us?), who can get into the rhythm of the film, will find much to enjoy. This is a deeply poetic and personal film, one that should appeal to a broad range of people. There is something quite joyful in this journey and something deeply rewarding in sharing it. While attending a recent public interview with Collins he expressed some doubt as to where the funding for his next feature will come from. He stated that he had interest in doing another fiction film - funding permitting. Judging on this fine film, the Irish Film Board could do a lot worse with its money than back another film from this gifted director.
Silence is on in The Lighthouse Cinema until the 22nd August.