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Review: L’art du silence


- Maurizius Staerkle Drux’s second feature film casts new light on the life and the art of famous mime artist Marcel Marceau

Review: L’art du silence

Presented in a world premiere at this year’s Solothurn Film Festival, where it’s currently in the running for the Prix de Soleure, L’art du silence [+see also:
film profile
by Swiss director Maurizius Staerkle Drux is the first ever documentary to be dedicated to the legendary French mime artist Marcel Marceau, who inspired entire generations of artists, from the famous Swiss clown Dimitri, who was part of his company, to David Bowie and Kate Bush, whose mentor Lindsay Kemp learned dance and mime from Marceau himself.

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Thinking carefully about it, however, L’art du silence isn’t just a portrait of Marcel Marceau; it’s also, and perhaps primarily, a study of the art of mime itself, and the reasons for its existence. One thing that’s for sure is that the film was born out of the personal experience of the director who was also the son of Christoph Staerkle, a renowned Swiss mime artist who is also deaf. It was his deafness, or rather the absence of words which distinguishes this art from other forms – an art taught and ceaselessly represented by Marcel Marceau – which gave rise to the film, and it was from the need to free language from words and to restore full expressiveness to gestures that the film took shape. In this sense, the mega-famous French mime artist becomes the living embodiment of an art which is rooted in our need to escape from the tragic nature of life in order to find a reason for living, together.

As we learn in the film, behind the fascination which Marceau’s mimes and gestures have given rise to and continue to give rise to, is a life and, notably, a childhood marked by deep wounds which proved impossible to heal. Instead of allowing his rage to morph into bitterness, the man known at the time as Marcel Mangel managed to sublimate it, to imprison it within a silence capable of expressing that which words can no longer express. L’art du silence emphasises the universality of this art, which transcends cultures and breaks down linguistic barriers.

Through archive images and testimonials from Marceau himself, but also previously unreleased statements from his family – his wife Anne Sicco, their daughters Aurélia and Camille Marceau and his grandson Louis Chevalier - the film casts new light on the reasons why Marcel Mangel became mime artist Marcel Marceau. The trauma caused by his father’s deportation and extermination in Auschwitz’s infamous concentration camp was undoubtedly central to Marcel’s transformation. It was the brutality of this event, together with the darker days the world was experiencing more generally, and the subsequent loss of empathy which hung over everything for some time, which drove him to join the French Resistance and to save scores of Jewish children from their tragic fate by helping them to cross the border to Switzerland. As indicated by his daughters, it was this very pacifism, this silent resistance, which gave rise to the most famous mime artist in the world.

To round off this portrait coming to us from the past, Marceau’s family perform a play in his honour, which the director observes with befitting distance. It’s a “hyphen”, of sorts, linking different generations who are just as imbued with tolerance and non-conformism. Marceau’s grandson Louis speaks to us openly about his view that masculinity should finally be free from the dictates of gender binarism. Just like his grandfather, Louis looks to art and, this time, to dance for the words he can’t find within the confines of language. Like him, Louis digs deep inside himself to speak about what the world wants to keep hidden, out of fear. In this sense, Louis, but also Maurizius, through their own choice of art, are continuing a tradition which still has much to offer.

L’art du silence is produced by Swiss firm Beauvoir Films (who are also managing the movie’s international rights), alongside Germany’s Lichtblick Film und Fernsehproduktion, ZDF/ARTE, SFR Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen and RTS Radio Télévision Suisse.

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(Translated from Italian)

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