Saturday, 21 February 2009

Bergman's The Silence

The Silence was my 10th Bergman film experience and I gave it undivided attention on 24.10.2006. I still cling to being able to watch something, write something and think something at the same time.

It was just after my birthday in March 2007, four months after watching the Film, and I make the choice to reconsider the film in preference to watching an interesting film on TV, and writing about a non political episode of West Wing where the character Josh experiences post traumatic stress. The subject of the episode, and the film, required undivided attention, so I chose what should have been the least emotionally demanding activity.

I am still shattered from getting up early after going to bed late, then a good level of prolonged working over eight hours, an early afternoon cooked meal, a break to catch up on an F A Cup which was worthy of undivided attention, as later had been an England win against France in Rugby Union. I dozed when visiting my mother at the residential home where she was a resident, watching Hook, and then on return watched Time Team, had more to eat and dosed more until West Wing achieved my undivided attention.

In The Silence, two women, for a moment I thought one was mother, the other, her daughter, and travel in a train with a boy. They are sisters but this is not immediately apparent, perhaps it was and I did not pay the attention although I believe I did.

The film was made in 1963 and the impression is conveyed that it is hot somewhere in Europe. There is a southern feel to the travel rather than Nordic.

The boy witnesses a goods train of endless tanks passing by. War, in war, preparations for war, seems to be the message; this is not peace time produced goods on sale for use by others.

(I have spent a week going through too much paper, trying to relate the recollections of others about events four years ago, partly based on partial contemporary records, memories changed over time, the interpretations of a succession of people asked to establish facts and make judgements. I do not have the brain or memory for the task. But there is no one else and if I do not do it no one will).

The journey is interrupted as one of the women is taken ill. Looks like TB. They stay at a grand hotel to enable her to recover sufficiently to complete the journey. When I was a boy I lived a young aunt who had TB. The youngest of my mother's six sisters and four brothers, and who was the first to die. Her fiancée was studying to be a doctor at the University of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War and disappeared. She never knew what happened to him, nor had his mother and this affected her greatly; that was the kind of person she was, kind. But that is just a mixture of fleeting retained impressions and the memories of others.

The boy in the film appears to live with two women, I thought I knew him well as I was raised by three women, sharing a bed with them until I was nine or ten years of age.

There is suddenly menace as a solitary tank which rumbles around deserted streets near the hotel. Towards the end of World War II the rocket bombs came, over 140 falling in the area close to our home. I have a vivid memory of watching one flying over while making way to the Anderson shelter, praying its engine would not stop. It did but fell somewhere else. Sometimes we would go and look at the crater in streets nearby. Now children only know about this if their parents watch old films. It is black and white history.

The sisters and the boy do not speak the language of the place where they stay, but that it is an international hotel helps. The ill sister cries out once, perhaps twice: “I do not want to die here among strangers! Most people cry out that they do not want to die, to end, whatever their spiritual beliefs, and expectations, so this cry is interesting! Her sister, the boy, is they strangers? At least she will not die alone.

The boy is bored, uncomfortable and used to being on his own. I have never been bored in that sense because I grew up being on my own among others.

The hotel where they choose to stay is evidently the best in town and in most places. The corridors and rooms are vast, but there is an absence of other people. There is a service waiter on their floor and he is to play an important role as the film unfolds. The sisters seem to have money and the length of their stay does not appear to be a problem. As in all Bergman films, viewed so far, one of the characters, the sister who is ill, is an artist, a writer and lover of words. It is evident she can communicate through words but finds it difficult to communicate directly with people.

The boy has his own punch and Judy puppets and there is a troupe of midgets staying at the hotel and performing at a variety theatre. To-day we say height challenged. Significantly below average height is a mouthful. I am not sympathetic to this constant seeking to find neutral public expressions for what is the reality of everyday behaviour. You do not change prejudice by changing terminology that is why I liked In Bruges so much, because it spoke as people do and the midget made the most of being a midget.

In the film I should have watched tonight, I noted from an advance clip the statement to the effect that we all have secrets, guilty secrets. In Bergman films the secrets are shared between characters and with the audience. We learn something of the attitude of the sister, imprisoned by illness in the hotel, towards the physical aspect of marriage but who finds being physically alone unbearable. The younger sister, the boy's mother, has a different kind of problem and goes out leaving the boy in the care of the other sister and in effect the care of the hotel. That the boy is used to being on his own in this way is no defence.

His mother goes to a show where the troupe is performing. There is also a separate scene where the boy encounters the troupe in their room and is entertained by them. As with Fellini who makes a point of including abnormal physical forms I fail to understand the significance except to drive home the point that no one is in fact normal although with most the abnormalities are internal and in how they relate to the world.

A young woman told me that she encountered a stranger in the midst of a desert in central Europe and they made physical love and then went on their separate ways without communicating in words. In this film there is a similar situation because the man and the woman speak different languages. It was this aspect of the film which shocked 1960 audiences. The aspect, which had interested me, of the real event, is that it had taken place when the woman had been a fearless young backpacker in the sixties. I also knew someone who went on her own to India for six months before university. Now a days having one night stands with strangers who speak in different tongues has become common place for young people in a thousand holiday hotels in the Costa’s but justifiably think a boy or girl was crazy to go backpacking alone, anywhere. The nature of freedom to have changed. We are being asked to surrender some freedoms from.

The boy goes on walkabouts in the hotel and I am reminded of Jenny Agutter's film although in this instance the aborigine is the lonely floor waiter. It is not the performing troupe. The man is kind, especially to the sick sister and finds a way to communicate without language. The sick sister also appears able to communicate to the boy and writes him a message, which is similar concept to that of the History Boys, the passing on to a new generation. But beware the price of being a ring bearer, which for me is the main message of the magnificent Lords of the Ring. The Silence ends leaving you to speculate if the sick sister has died or has been left alone. Mother and boy continue the journey north.

There are film notes with the DVD and in this instance I read them afterwards and then replayed the film. I find this is the way to experience a film, theatre, sporting: go and take an emotional journey and then think, and then if inclined, watch again which I did in this instance because I needed to separate myself from the film and what its creator had intended.

No comments:

Post a Comment