Running Time: 161 minutes
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Featuring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano and Ciarán Hinds
Ferreira: “I do because you are just like me. You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.”
The latest Martin Scorsese film comes at a time when historical and/or religious epics are far and few between – and maybe that’s a good thing. This film follows Scorsese’s last film, the bloated and overlong “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2012), which suffered from a variety of issues, but my main one was of someone who was making films out of a duty to, and not because that’s what he wanted to do. I have long maintained that Scorsese is not the be all and end all in film, he is definitely not the greatest living filmmaker. His work this century has been plodding, muddled and unremarkable. The films he has produced have been adaptions, remakes and historical documents that end up being compromised in some way. Now after a break comes “Silence” (2016) which is something of a return to form.
The film concerns itself with Portuguese Jesuit priest Alessandro Valignano who receives news that Father Cristóvão Ferreira, his mentor, in Japan has renounced his faith after being tortured. Ferreira’s pupils, Father Sebastião Rodrigues and Father Francisco Garupe, disbelieving he would commit such apostasy, set off to find him.
Closing borders, persecuted people based on religion and culture, sound familiar? It should, it is what Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” (2017) and the current state of the US have in common. Simply a sad state of affairs that proves we are doomed to repeat history time and time again. Of course the subject matter for Scorsese is extremely personal, his background would attest to that. He is of course a deep thinker, so it is easy to see why this film would be suitable subject matter for him – his films have always been full of Christian iconography and guilt. It is a testament to his power and authority in Hollywood that he was able to get this made at all, it is one of the finest protest movies I have ever seen – it is very difficult to view this without thinking about the world in general and the kinds of racist rhetoric going on at the moment.
Although there is a lot of voice over (courtesy of Andrew Garfield and later a Dutch sailor) within this film, it cannot be considered a weakness, much like Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” (1998), which too was loaded with the same narrative technique, it speaks to the world that is inhabited by the central characters, the way in which they interact with the natural and un-natural world alike. This narration like the priests serve a larger purpose – even the language that they are unable to speak is a metaphor of understanding both culturally and religiously.
In terms of Scorsese’s collaborators on “Silence”, there are three that need to be mentioned, the first is his long time friend and screenwriter Jay Cocks who co-wrote this with Scorsese – on all of the directors most personal projects Cocks has been an undeniable presence, for better or worse. In this case it is important to note that it is the contemplatory nature of the writing that is most important and they both excel at this. Secondly, Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematographer who previously worked with Scorsese on “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and here he has improved a lot, there are some challenging environments for him to shoot in and he succeeds mightily. Where would a Scorsese film be without his longtime partner, friend and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who has worked on all his films since “Raging Bull” (1981) – maybe the longest lasting and most successful partnership in film history?
There is not much to add to the discourse about the directing by Scorsese, but as usual there are not many master shots and everything is filmed either in close-up, two-shots or lots of camera movement. He has his own way of using actors, foreground and background and loves to have many reaction shots to stressful situations. He has become a master of representing emotional truths on screen – particularly men with which he seems to have dedicated his career to.
The performances of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are excellent and you can see this film and the roles meant much to them – they immersed themselves in their parts and it shows onscreen. Garfield in terms of performance is on a roll at the moment, and it appears he enjoys working with directors and writers who have an idea of the goals of their films. Driver, as well who has become a megastar over the past year illustrates in his time onscreen why he has become so popular with independent and studio directors at the same time. He has a face that is so interesting to look at and it seems to change from film to film. However, this film was always going to live and die with the performances and casting of the Japanese actors, and here “Silence” exceeds expectations. Yôsuke Kubozuka as the alcoholic fisherman, Kichijiro, steals the show, it is a revelatory performance, and I am frankly surprised he ahs not been nominated for an Academy Award for it.
After seeing the trailers for “Silence”, I was not impressed and prepared not to like or enjoy it, they were not very good at all, they did not really show or explain the film at all – you still have to het people to see it. I felt a little alienated by them, but boy was I wrong.
This, in my mind is the best Martin Scorsese has produced in years, there is almost not a foot put wrong. Part of this comes from the strong sense of relevance it has, the fact that most of it is in Japanese as well as entering a completely foreign and mysterious world. I remember having the same sense of wonder watching “Goodfellas” (1990) for the first time – I was witnessing something original, but at the same time familiar.
In case you are wondering you should definitely see this film and enjoy it for what it is, a masterpiece that we see to rarely produced in a Hollywood studio system. It offers truths about human nature as well as the power of belief, whether it is right or wrong. We see the frailty of human beings at their best as well their worst – seeking truths they may never find in this life.