Dir: Martin Scorsese
I’m not an avid follower of Scorsese’s work, yet when I do watch his films they are never ordinary. He always seems to take an interesting story and present it with striking visuals, this is no exception.
Two young Jesuit priests go to Japan in search of their mentor with whom they have lost contact, in the midst of fierce persecution of Christians in the country.
Firstly I have to state that I found this such a tough watch. When a film says it has ‘distressing scenes’ you may underestimate what they mean by distressing. Without going into too much detail there are multiple forms of interrogation and torture shown and being sat just metres from a cinema screen they were all the more difficult to watch.
The last Scorsese film I watched was ‘Shutter Island’ which was excellent, and I absolutely loved ‘Hugo’, so I was already personally familiar with the quality of his work beyond just the critical praise that abounds even if I’m not a keen follower of the director. Going in, I knew it wouldn’t be an easy movie to watch but this had me gripped, even though there were times when I (and the characters on screen) wanted to look away, the film just makes you keep on watching. It doesn’t cut away from scenes of torture, though not gratuitous or played for shocks the methods of interrogation and persecution are depicted in detail, and at length, at times with the characters also being made to stay and see it through to the fatal end.
At the core of the film’s success are some brilliant performances. Casting Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuit priests might sound a little strange at first, then when you see them in their roles they completely look and act their parts so well. They have distinct personalities and react to the challenges they face in varying ways, helping each other when together, yet also shown in situations where they are separated.
Much of the focus really goes to Garfield’s Father Rodrigues, both in the film and now critically. It’s been a productive period for Andrew Garfield in his career, with (sadly as I liked him in the role) his leaving Spiderman seemingly freeing up his schedule for some amazing opportunities. I thought he was fantastic in this, and I’m eager to see ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ now after seeing the trailer at the cinema and being impressed by what I saw, Andrew Garfield looks like he’s doing some excellent work in that too. There are a few moments where the religious imagery in relation to Rodrigues was a little too on-the-nose for me, moments in which he remembers a painiting that has stuck with him. I got the point the film was trying to make with those moments but still they jarred a little. Interestingly, Father Rodrigues is based on a real historical figure, as are some others in the novel by Shusaku Endo, so there may be an element of incorporating something he actually wrote, in which case I can better understand why it was in the film.
Another of the characters who was even more closely based on a figure from history was Father Cristóvão Ferreira played brilliantly by Liam Neeson. He’s actually seen very little of in the first part of the film, so I worried he would be underused, though I need not have, it’s much more than a brief cameo and his character is fascinating. He’s played in an understated way by Neeson that hints at further depths that are unspoken, an excellent performance.
The historical aspects of the story are fascinating, fully conveyed in the way it’s woven into the fictional story. The film wonderfully recreates the period and tells so much detail about the situation without resorting to basic exposition, any explaining feels naturally worked into dialogue and conversations that all make sense. Everything is beautifully shot in some amazing locations with the best production and costume design, however the acts shown taking place there are horrific, it’s a really difficult juxtaposition to watch.
This is certainly not a film that you’ll watch for pure entertainment, it’s almost a struggle to say I ‘enjoyed’ it, yet I think essentially I did though not in the usual sense for reasons one would generally enjoy watching films. The cinema I saw it in was only screening it once a day in one of the smaller screening rooms, seemingly the right choice given there can’t have been many more than 10 people in there with me, though I didn’t turn round to count an exact number.
It’s not a film I’ll be widely recommending as it could be too upsetting for many. Though there’s no doubt Scorsese has put a lot of time and effort into handing the material very well, telling the story and history in a way that captivates so you can’t look away even if at times you feel like you can hardly look.
Silence is out now in cinemas and has been nominated for just one Academy Award for the beautiful cinematography. Some people feel like the film has been snubbed though I don’t fully agree, at 2h41min it’s a long and gruelling experience, probably one that few are entering into enthusiastically, therefore watched by less voters.