Aga Woszczyńska brings us a fantastic tale in Silent Land through themes of guilt and denial. This is a confident and compelling debut, filled with perfect stillness and two knockout performances from Agnieszka Żulewska and Dobromir Dymecki.
The cracks of a ‘perfect’ couple begin to show as their holiday in Italy is disturbed by a fatal accident. But, unfortunately, the accident does not leave the couple unscathed, and, as they slowly start to question themselves and each other, their relationship begins to unravel.
You would struggle to find a more striking couple than Anna (Agnieszka Żulewska) and Adam (Dobromir Dymecki). This beautiful couple seems to have it all, and as they enjoy their affluence on a trip to their Italian getaway. Yet all is not what it seems, yes, the couple is playful upon their arrival, but a coldness is around them. Everything seems so calculated and precise in their lives that a spark or spontaneity has long left them. Their days are structured, food, morning runs, swimming, everything is planned and organised. So when they encounter an issue with their swimming pool, a shift occurs that they may never recover from.
Aga Woszczyńska and cinematographer Bartosz Swiniarski have utilised the simplest arsenal in Silent Land. By showing friction in a couple, they set the camera back and dare not move it. These continual aching static shots leave you feeling increasingly cold and distant to the couple as their troubles increase. We are never able to move in and be with them, almost to comfort them in what has happened because of the accident. But we can’t; we have to stew like the observers that we are as the couple slowly fall away from each other. The decision to present the story in an observational style is such a perfect choice and shows that even for a first time feature director that Woszczyńska has style and poise in abundance, and she makes sure to make her presence felt.
Along with co-writer Piotr Litwin, she can also throw in some unexpectedly funny moments around all of the tension that is ramped up throughout Silent Land. For example, while our couple is caught in a lie and returned to their home by the now sceptical police, the worst thing that could happen does. Their automated gate begins to malfunction. All the while, the camera stays still, watching as Adam gets more and more frustrated with it, bashing the buttons impatiently as even the smallest things in this now horrendous holiday goes wrong. Moments like this are perfect for breaking up the escalating tragedy between the two.
Though it is in the writing of the couple where the film shines, they have gone away to an island and culture that is open and charming, something our Polish couple just cannot get their grips around, and thus they come across as such outsiders that the locals struggle to want to believe them. They stand out, not because of their blonde hair and pale skin, but because they are not as in sync with the culture as everyone else is. There is a rustic look to this Italian coastline that never really gels with our two leads; they try to wear light clothing, but even then, it never feels free, all neatly tucked in and fashionable isn’t really the style on the island.
The slow burn nature of the couple’s torment allows us to remember their beginning when they makes love; they are not facing one another. They only seemingly face one another when eating. By having us see the divide early, even if they subconsciously do not, we are given a chance to be ahead of the game in a way. So as the divide grows, we see how big the space grows between them, be it in the bed or even in those runs; they are not together emotionally. The wonderful pastels of their environment are contrasted with the purposely frosty performances.
Our two leads do some great work here, as both try to grasp and take account of the tragedy that has happened, neither look to one another for support; they both try to take some form of control, leading for guilt and denial to come to the surface. Their inability to communicate with others has driven the two so far apart that they cannot see what is happening to them until it is too late and the powder keg has already been lit.
Silent Land shows us how fallible the idea of people being able to sweep everything under the carpet is. Atmospheric throughout, you are continually on edge for the couple, their world and how to handle everything is falling all around them. We are left with a film that impresses us in every manner.
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