“It won’t be to everyones’ taste but then people actually liked Transformers so what do I know about movies, or humanity for that matter. No omniplex will ever sell any popcorn to its audience.” – WatchingCattle finds a moment of comfort in Pat Collins’ Silence.
In what seems a to be a former life, I was once a photographer. I hide this fact as much as possible now as the word photographer, seems completely intertwined with the words hipster or arsehole. Every fuckwit with an iphone and instagram is now a photographer and frankly they can all go to hipster hell – a place, I assume, where bikes are only available with infinite gears and garish purple, yellow and pink action paint jobs (no slick black for you cunts, no sir), surf pop doesn’t exist and cameras are banned at gigs. Especially the latter. For me photography was (and one day may well become again) a lonesome art. I was (and in general am) more interested in my surroundings – this modernism of ours – than in skinny kids in tight jeans. In short, I have always found the things that people make (art, film, architecture, fake tits, plastic dog shit etc.) far more interesting than people. As a result I spent much of my college career alone on the outskirts of cities in the freezing cold and driving rain, trying to capture images which explained my own relationship to the modern world. It’s lonely, tiring, time-consuming, sometimes all encompassing work. Anyone who has experienced the Parisian winter or a downpour in Leipzig will agree – it’s not cool and all the skinny jeans in the world won’t change that. In short, fuck you instagram.
Silence is a film by Pat Collins which anyone who has experienced anything even remotely similar to the above should see. Frankly it is wonderful – a richly rewarding, subtle, elegant film.
The plot, of which there is barely one to speak of, is based around a sound recordist named Eoghan who returns home from Berlin to Donegal to record tracks for a project about silence. Or, more accurately – sound devoid of modernism – natural sounds unobscured by modern sounds, so basically trees rustling, rivers flowing, that sort of thing, without the sound of planes passing overhead or some fucking shit bag listening to Rhianna on the speakers of their fucking iphone. He returns to Donegal and makes his way around trying to capture that ancient kind of silence, a sound of solitude if you will. Along the way he meets and has conversations with people – essentially this is a Donegal road movie about returning home to a past which is all but lost to the present. As a central character Eoghan Mc Goilla Bhrid as Eoghan is perfect. Quiet, dedicated and somewhat solipsistic, he makes a fine human version of an artist. He never tips over towards the tortured type, alone in the world without companionship cliché. And he is never boring, in spite of the fact that all his lines could probably fit on a matchbox. Even watching him listen to essentially nothing has an elegancy to it and, it must be said, this is the majority of the film…a man walking around the countryside listening to nothing.
The film’s larger themes are conveyed through the conversations which Eoghan engages in along the way. How we relate to the place of our birth, the home-place, our memories of this and the passing of time while we are away from our homeland – this is what the film explores more deeply. One conversation, between Eoghan (the Berlin-based well-travelled artist) and a man who has lived all his life in the same area and now finds himself chained to it by his mother’s failing health, is a wonder to behold.
This film tries to capture an emptiness much in the same way Eoghan’s recordings try to capture absence. The past, our homes, our childhoods, adulthood and equally the changes that occur in the lives of those that are left behind are all addressed in Silence. All of this is, of course, implied and there are no grand statements here. There is, however, a quiet exploration of feelings of belonging to a place and to a time. How it achieves this is the film’s real success. At 84 minutes it’s surprisingly taut – no frame lingers too long and every single shot is beautiful to look at. Ireland’s northwest, its grandeur and beauty which play a huge part in conveying Eoghan’s connection to and love for his home, is undeniably stunning. This is a distinctly Irish look at Ireland with an eye towards the kind of midpoint grey of photographers like Paul Seawright, rather than the saturated greens of John Hinde’s postcards. There are no sweeping vistas of the Americanised Ireland here – instead the images have a documentary feel. Intelligently, it doesn’t resolutely stick to this documentary aesthetic and this gives the film the ability to just glide along quietly and humbly.
Given that Silence is about sound, the sound itself of course has to be at its centre and, as such, this is one of its major achievements. I, for one, have rarely noticed the background sound to such an extent in any other film. The way it’s conveyed here is exquisite. It’s not like one of those movie clichés where you only notice it when it’s bad – like editing, lighting or a million other absolutely vital ‘back-room’ jobs. In truth, I doubt I’ve heard a better sounding film. It’s pacing is perfect, slow but not so slow that anything feels overlong. Nothing feels rushed – it is all steady and measured. The performance of Eoghan Mc Goilla Bhrid in the lead role is excellent but he is aided some absolutely stunning performances from the supporting cast, some of which seem so realistic that at times it’s hard to believe that this is not a documentary. The dialogue is simple and sparse and yet within it so much is expounded upon – so much remains unsaid and yet understood and, as you’d expect, so much remains silent. Director Pat Collins is the star here. He manages to get so much right and he uses such simple and beautiful touches to achieve this. His use of archive footage is superb and even the use of maps to give the audience the idea of where Eoghan travels is so simple and so successful that you can’t help but be utterly impressed.
In tone Silence sits alongside several movies, notably, Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, parts of Gus Van Sant’s Last Days and and in a strange way Eoghan’s man-at-work-alone nature even reminded me of Zidane by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno or of Donald Taylor Black’s film Elusive Moments about photographer David Farrell. It won’t be to everyones’ taste but then people actually liked Transformers so what do I know about movies, or humanity for that matter. No omniplex will ever sell any popcorn to its audience. If you like the above list or if you have ever been involved with any art which demanded solitude, you’ll find a lot to love here but make no mistake – Silence is very much its own film – it’s an affecting and brilliant elegy to the notion of ‘home’.
Silence opens in Irish cinemas on July 27th and will also be available to stream online from http://www.volta.ie.