Review: A Silence
- Joachim Lafosse explores in depth the silencing mechanisms around situations of sexual violence, particularly within families
Belgian director Joachim Lafosse is back in Competition at the San Sebastián Film Festival, where he won the Best Director award in 2015 for The White Knights [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
film profile]. He is now presenting his tenth feature film, A Silence [+see also:
interview: Joachim Lafosse
For 25 years, Astrid (Emmanuelle Devos) has been choosing her words. Although not totally hushed, she is careful about what she says. At the beginning of the film, she is supporting her husband François (Daniel Auteuil), a lawyer, through a highly mediatised and tense trial. If Astrid stays quiet, it is because she has something to hide. The film in fact begins on Astrid, with a shot of her anxious gaze. It will also end with her. It is this turmoil that the filmmaker proceeds to dissect, by showing and by trying to understand how this silence weighs like a burden on the shoulders of this woman, recipient of an internalised form of guilt and responsible for the situation she finds herself in. We won’t reveal what that situation is here, but at the moment when the film begins, it has reached a point of no return. The pivotal change comes from Raphaël (newcomer Matthieu Galloux), Astrid and François’ son and the most recent victim of that silence. Faced with the powerlessness of words, he has no choice but to take action, since he cannot make the truth heard — a truth that isn’t hidden so much as intentionally ignored.
Because this silence isn’t characterised by an absence or a lack of speech, but by a presence, a hindrance, like a lead blanket ensuring that good family men continue to reign. In that regard, Joachim Lafosse’s film fits into the current discourse around the silencing process that sexual violence involves, and comes in the wake of the #MeToo and that misnomer “the liberation of the word,” which really has more to do with an ability to finally hear rather than an ability to speak, which has always existed. He shows how secrecy (or silence) feeds on rapports of dominance, but also on fear, shame, and the inability to call things what they are. If the word of victims exists, it echoes in the emptiness of propriety and of social and family “peace.”
This phenomenon is all the more striking for being shown here within a very bourgeois milieu, where even more so than elsewhere, reputation trumps many other considerations. The big house where the characters evolve seems to stifle the expression of the crimes haunting it. Under these high ceilings, words fly, their echo fading away before they’ve crossed any walls. In this home, a trio of characters cornered by silence: father, mother, and son. The daughter escaped from the family circle and is more in line with the concerns of her generation. An exterior element who will allow for the truth to come out, she questions this silence and does what she can to break it.
Thanks to a sober and calm direction, complemented by a score that accompanies with empathy the storm that descends on Astrid and Raphaël, and by the flawless performances of Emmanuelle Devos, Daniel Auteuil and Matthieu Galloux, A Silence emerges as a valuable film about the role played by loved ones in stories of sexual violence and child abuse.
A Silence is produced by Stenola Productions (Belgium), and co-produced by Samsa Film (Luxemburg), Les Films du Losange (France) and Prime Time (Belgium). International sales are also handled by Les Films du Losange.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 25/09/2023: San Sebastián 2023 - A Silence
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