Director: Pat Collins
Cast: Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde
Running Time: 86 min
Release Date: 27 July
Part documentary, part drama, part elegy, part celebration, Pat Collins’ Silence defies easy categorisation. Perhaps best described as a visual poem, the film—light on plot and characterisation—invites individualistic interpretation. As with Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, this is cinema in its purest, most visceral form.
Opening in Berlin, the film introduces us to restless sound recordist Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde) as he documents the city’s man-made ambience (trams, traffic etc). He bids a woman a muted farewell and the story moves to Ireland where his quest to record areas free from human noise begins. From here Eoghan’s journey unfolds at a slow measured pace characterised by breathtaking landscapes, long periods of silence and the occasional philosophical encounter. The nomadic Eoghan has not set foot in Ireland for fifteen years, so it’s unsurprising that this external journey be mirrored by an internal one in which the exile finds himself drawn closer and closer to home.
A celebrated and prolific documentary filmmaker, Collins’ film frequently blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Influenced in part by folklore and its archivists, the story was jointly devised by Collins, Mac Giolla Bhríde, and Sharon Whooley. While the narrative charts a clear journey—from Berlin to Tory—the story unfolds slowly and the film’s structure is loosely assembled. As a character, Eoghan is underwritten and at times feels more akin to a conduit for the film’s exploration of theme and story than a central protagonist. For the active viewer this can make for a richly rewarding experience, but those more accustomed to conventional characterisation and plot arcs may find this lightness of touch infuriating.
Collins’ minimalist, reflective film belongs to a tradition of so-called slow cinema that includes Malick as well as the celebrated Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) and Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives). It is superbly photographed by documentary cinematographer Richard Kendrick and boasts some of the most stunning Irish vistas ever committed to screen. Collins suffuses Kendrick’s images with his own documentary aesthetic, incorporating still photography and archive footage to bring the past into Eoghan’s present. In a role reminiscent of Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis in Paris,Texas, the enigmatic Mac Giolla Bhríde delivers a haunting performance.
Certainly the film will not be to everyone’s taste, but in Silence Collins has fashioned one of the truly great Irish films of recent years. Aching with melancholy the film speaks to the very roots of our national identity.