Poetic in form yet piercingly haunting in function, Pat Collins’ Silence (2012) is a truly absorbing sensory experience. Imbuing documentary-style filmmaking with a contemplative narrative about identity, Collins has fashioned a mournful allegory for humanity’s inherent desire to return to our roots and bathe in cherished memories and the simplicity of youth. Eoghan (Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride) is a sound recorder living in Berlin who receives a job offer which requires him to return to Ireland and capture samples of natural sound – free from the audio fingerprints of the man-made noises which punctuate everyday life.
It’s a chance for Eoghan to reconnect with his past, and whilst his voyage for solitude is persistently disrupted by the reverberations of globalisation (whether it be the sound of distant traffic, an industrial rock-breaker or an inquisitive local), our protagonist’s numerous encounters offer a refreshing new perspective on his own existence. Silence is an amorphous piece of filmmaking that defies simple genre classification. It eschews conventional directorial techniques by presenting us with a story, which through its narrative austerity, feels more like a personal memoir veiled behind an ostentatious study of sound and folklore.
Collins further blind-sides his mesmerised audience by permitting his textured score to intermittently surge to prominence above the film’s spellbinding cinematography (that boasts its own alluring symphonic qualities). At a time when stereoscopic 3D blockbusters are saturating cinema listings, Silence pushes the sense of sound to the forefront, creating an additional dimension to this sombre meditation on memory and its inherent fallibility. A small but perfectly formed film that’s rudimentary narrative is driven almost entirely through diegetic sound and striking imagery, Silence amalgamates photography, cartography and the quiet contemplation that peace and solitude can evoke into a rich, sensual tapestry.
It’s clear that this wayward sound recorder is on a regressive voyage to rediscover the point at which his delivery into the world beckoned the end of the serenity that accompanied his nine-month incubation. The human mind accelerates upon experiencing noiselessness and it has been said that, when presented with the absence of noise, the mind begins to hallucinate sound. Whilst clearly frustrated by his assignment and challenged by numerous obstacles, our hero completes his audio odyssey.
Eoghan finds something within each of these exchanges, making Silence a shrewdly optimistic film about the beauty that is evident in the world when the equilibrium between nature and humanity is fully realised. An enthralling, rhythmic and truly original experience, Collins has crafted a film of immense beauty that resonates for far longer than its subdued moniker would suggest. A film that permeates Gaelic folklore with the cinematic splendour of sound and imagery, Silence is an intense paean for a world that’s thankfully never muted.