Silence

“The moment you set foot in that country, you step into high danger.”

A conundrum for you to ponder on this, the first day of 2017.Can a flawed masterpiece actually exist? Can a film that is of a supreme status yet isn’t perfect still be labelled as a type of masterpiece? If it can than ‘Silence’, my first cinema outing of the new year and of a film of seminal standard of incredible quality, surely fits the title of ‘flawed masterpiece’.

It isn’t perfect. The pacing slackens throughout the film to such an extent it becomes an almost tortuous watch. Several sequences  are so unrelenting in their brutality  that they almost lose meaning.  It has a running time of 161 minutes. And yet. This film has a magnetic quality, a certain something that is almost undefinable, that ascribes it a status beyond most big screen fare. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before yet words seem unable to allow me to truly explain why.

There’s the incredible story that is overwhelmingly potent with emotion and spirituality – enlightening in unexpected and unconscious ways. There’s Andrew Garfield’s masterful leading man performance (the film was preceded by this trailer for Hacksaw Ridge – 2017 could very well be the year of Garfield) which is a raw powerhouse of a performance. There’s the brief practically cameo-esque appearance by Ciarán  Hinds for whom I have a huge soft spot. Or perhaps it’s the story and the way Scorsese tells it.

I’m not sure I can define what the films takeaway message is, but then I’m not sure I need to. Good film. Great film. Masterpiece film creates a feeling – a transformative feeling that captivates and sustains. ‘Silence’ does that completely. This is being billed as an intense watch and that’s something of an understatement. It has an edge that builds throughout the film to almost unbearable levels as we watch the innate endurance of human nature and belief being tested to frequently shocking levels.

However, for a film with so much brutality – both physical and emotional – there is a stillness at its centre. A film could not consider masterpiece status if it was all darkness, all edge and power. There are moments of quiet light – of silence and contemplation – that conquer the darkest shadows. Less a film to be watched, rather one that needs to be experienced.

4.5

Dir:  Martin Scorsese

        Year: 2016         Run time:161 minutes

Starring: Andrew GarfieldAdam DriverLiam NeesonTadanobu AsanoCiarán Hinds,Yôsuke Kubozuka

Our Little Sister

A quietly touching family drama

Our Little Sister is a wonderful example of a sentimental yet ultimately subtle delight of a film. Watching it is a bit like being in a 128 minute-long embrace, warm and imitate with undercurrents of deep emotion. There’s no real melodrama – no dramatic shouting matches, intensive confrontations or shocking revelations – it’s far more real than that. We start the film with the character being total strangers to us then end the film feeling as if we are part of the family.

15 years ago a father left his wife and three young daughters behind. Soon after his heartbroken wife left the daughters in the care of her mother and left the town. 15 years later and the three, now fully grown, receive a phone call that their father has died, leaving behind his 14-year-old daughter who nursed him until the end. The trio – 29 year old Sachi (Haruka Ayase), 22 year old Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and 19 year old Chika (Kaho) – travel to his funeral and to meet their little sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). The girls make an offer to the now orphaned Suzu, that she could come and live with the three of them in their big house in Kamakura. 

What is so effective about this film as it doesn’t require a big overarching plot – there’s no big problem or issue to solve. Instead we watch the three women over a period of about a year as they bond and face different issues within their own personal lives. Days blend into weeks with only a few references to dictate how much time has passed – at one point the three tell their little sister that in six months they’ll be able to undertake the family tradition of making plum wine, later in the film they do so etc. This alone with the absence of a melodramatic narrative instead presents a more realistic portrayal of family life by choosing to instead use what is essentially a series of interconnected vignettes. Each of the girls faces different issues in their lives, typically resulting around love or work, some are returned to and resolved and others are not as they do not need to be.

The film plays a magical spell as you watch it, drawing you into the lives of four young women who are each dealing with the grief of a departed parent in different ways. All four girls are fully sketched out and wonderfully characterised by both positive and negative traits, each as charming at the movie itself. How the story is shown is as extraordinary as it is told, finding beauty in even the smallest of moments – such as the way a plum floats in a jar of plum wine – and within the landscape itself – with the ‘tunnel’ of cherry blossoms being a personal favourite.

Few family-based dramas whisper instead of shout. This is one of them. A film that is quietly powerful and immensely appealing.

4 stars