These are the latest two films I’ve check out in recent days. Both of them are very good, if somewhat maddening in not resolving some plot twists I would have liked to see resolved.
O Silêncio do Céu (The Silence of the Sky) (2016)
Director: Marco Dutra
This Brazilian film was released under the name Era El Cielo in Argentina. (I have never really understood the marketing reasons why films are given different names in different countries, but whatever). This is a fantastic amalgam of crime drama, psychological tension, and repressed rage. Sometimes the most important things in our lives we just can’t find the courage or ability to explain to others. Why is this? Is it due to weakness? Guilt? Some subconscious desire that we are only dimly aware of?
This is the psychological territory explored by Silence of the Sky. The plot is based on a novel by Sergio Bizzio. An apparently happily-married couple living in Montevideo, Uruguay has it all: nice house, nice kids, and good jobs. Mario (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and his Brazilian wife Diana (Carolina Dieckmann) seem like they have it all figured out. One day, two delivery men enter their home and rape Diana, who is there alone. Mario, who by chance has come home from work early, happens to witness the crime through a window. He hesitates for critical seconds, and by the time he has composed himself, the perpetrators have fled. It is an agonizing scene, where the viewer gets that feeling of paralysis like you might have in a dream.
But what comes next is where things get very complicated. Diana does not tell her husband about the crime, apparently due to a mixture of shame and victim’s guilt. She doesn’t know that Mario already knows about it. He, for his part, never discloses that he witnessed the crime, apparently due to his own tortured sense of guilt and inadequacy. From there, things get progressively more complex and layered, and to say more might spoil the viewer’s enjoyment of the film.
We find out in voice-overs by the main characters that each of them is carrying a full load of psychological bricks: Mario is plagued with neuroses and anxieties, and Diana has her own issues of mental blockage and trust. Lurking behind these swirling passions are possible suggestions of sexual inadequacy on Mario’s part. He seethes with anger and guilt, and feels he must redeem himself; and the lengths he will go to do this present us with the ancient moral dilemma of how far a man should go to avenge a crime against his family. This is a first-rate drama, beautifully photographed and acted, and deserved far more attention than it received.
Why won’t these two people just sit down and talk to each other? Why not cut through the fog of emotion and obfuscation? Because in real-life, people don’t often behave rationally. They don’t often speak when they should, or say what they know. The ending may strike some viewers as problematic, but this should not distract us from the director’s achievement in creating a world where people just can’t seem to communicate with each other. And when they do, it’s a “communication” full of halting missteps and innuendo. In other words, real life.
Not to be missed.
A Monster With A Thousand Heads (Un Monstro de Mil Cabezas) (2015)
Director: Rodrigo Plá
Suffering housewife Sonia Bonet (Jan Raluy) has a husband who is very ill. Unless he gets the treatment he needs right away, bad things are going to happen. But the problem is the medical insurance bureaucracy. Doctors, bureaucrats, and petty functionaries put her off or ignore her pleas. In several scenes that will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has had to deal with modern bureaucracy (and that means all of us), she is told in no uncertain terms that she must accept being placed on the back burner. This pushes her over the edge into armed action to try to get immediate medical help for her spouse.
Yes, it’s true that we’ve seen a great number of these aggrieved-spouse-fighting-the-corrupt-system movies in recent years. But what makes this one different–and much better–is that it walks that fine line between expressing sympathy for the perpetrator while not overlooking the reality of her criminal actions. In fact, the director here opts for an almost documentary style in his narrative technique. Sonia has a right to be angry and frustrated, of course, but her unconscionable involving of her young son in her mission is put squarely before the viewer as well.
The bigger questions being asked here by the director are these: at what point does the search for justice become “unjust” in its own right? Where is that balance between personal and social conscience? To his credit, Uruguyan director Rodrigo Plá refuses to offer any pat answers. In fact, the film is told with such dispassionate objectivity that we don’t really know where he stands on the issues. And that is what makes this film such a fine achievement.