Silent Land – Review

Silent LandHolidays have been known to make or break relationships. You’re either able to switch off, relax and fall in love all over again or unfamiliar surroundings and searing heat can further expose suspected flaws. Despite breathtaking scenery, a change of pace or even the chance to luxuriate at a level of comfort you don’t get at home, a holiday can (in some cases) be more hassle than haven.

And it seems that a holiday on the Sardinian coast will be the undoing of the perfect, privileged Adam and Anna in writer / director Agnieszka Woszczynska’s Silent Land. Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska) are both startling in their blondeness. Their tall, athletic frames are draped in tastefully muted summer casuals. They are clearly a couple with status and wealth; used to things going their own way. So, when they turn up at their summer rental and the pool is unfilled and dirty, they are determined to have things exactly as they were pictured in the brochure, so to speak. However, the death of a handyman in their desired pool space turns their vacation – and their relationship – upside down.

What is most noticeable in Silent Land is the extremely muted colour palette. The Sardinian coastline is known for turquoise seas and white sands – none of which we see here. Instead, we see cool blues, washed out greens, dry rockfaces, beiges and rich creams. This ties in nicely with the stark visuals that are often on display, too. The frame, as it were, is often quite empty. There are shots of pure blue where sea meets sky; shots of an empty kitchen or bedroom. Even when the couple are on screen, they are often relegated to a corner whilst the velvety night sky commands most of your attention. It’s a very deliberate, measured use of the screen that is striking in its bareness. More than this, the camera barely moves at all. Close ups happen almost imperceptibly.

This further compliments the minimal dialogue and lack of soundtrack. The only background noise we ever hear is either the construction work on the pool or the gentle lapping of the waves against the rocks. There is no music to help fill the silence. And there are many silences. For such a “power couple”, the pair have virtually nothing to say to each other. Woszczynska allows the growing tension between the couple to really breathe through the silences. Even the accident with the pool handyman occurs with barely a whimper. There’s no bones cracking, an almighty thump or a cry for help. The centre point of the unraveling of this relationship happens with just a mere splash.

Silent Land is most definitely a film that seeks to unpick privilege. The local police are seemingly content to let Adam and Anna away with not doing all the could to save the handyman. Their casual racism slips out when they make remarks about his ethnicity – he appears to be Arab – or his immigration status. They wonder if his family will even miss him. It’s clear that they live in a cocoon of power and wealth, unused to encountering people from other cultures or in such lines of work.

Silent LandAs a couple, despite their outward appearance of perfection – they run together, cook and eat well, power through a marathon of holiday sex – it’s clear that this relationship has little going on beyond the surface. Unlike the ocean, which makes its presence felt through the lapping of waves, these two don’t seem to have much depth. A film that should make you yearn for lazy holiday breakfasts with a view, intimate dinners and lively town squares will instead leave you cold and unfeeling. The rented villa becomes like a haunted house for them – exposing their flaws and leaving them questioning each other’s actions.

The closing scene is a real treat. Visually, it’s very powerful and, for the first time, sound fills the silence as the rattle of thunder rumbles overhead. With such a sudden, sharp ending, you are left wanting to know more.

This muted, stripped back approach may not be for everyone. It’s another one of these festival films where, ostensibly, nothing happens beyond the accident with the handyman. Instead, it offers up an almost intrusive dissection of a relationship under pressure. Without the trappings of their everyday life, how well do Adam and Anna communicate with each other? Will their relationship hold up under such scrutiny? Are they really working together as a team?

Woszczynska chooses not to answer such questions and, as such, Silent Land is a film that will leave you pondering things for days to come.

Silent Land is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival 2022. Click here to get your tickets – screenings end tonight so get in quick. If you miss it at GFF, the film opens at the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival as of March 9. UK release will be July 2022.

Mary Munoz
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