Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Silence

The Silence is the latest work from Cate Shortland, who was previously at the festival in 2004 with her film Somersault. The Silence stars Richard Roxburgh, who may be more familiar to North American audiences from his roles in Mission: Impossible II, Moulin Rouge, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In this film Roxburgh plays Richard Treloar, a detective in Sydney, Australia who is transferred to work in a police museum while he is under investigation for his part in a fatal shooting incident.

While preparing photographs for an exhibition, Treloar is intrigued by a woman he spies in a crime scene photo from the 60's. He combs through the archives, finding her in several other photos before ultimately making the discovery that she comes to an untimely end. Consumed by thoughts of her, he launches into his own investigation, dredging up a past that may have best been left buried, and one that may be closer to him personally than he realizes.

The film is more than just a police procedural, instead focusing on Treloar's obsession with the woman in the photo, which may be a result of his repressed feelings about both the incident which got him suspended and his own childhood.

Roxburgh is good as the troubled Treloar, and the role affords him a more interesting challenge than some of the villainous characters he has played in big-budget Hollywood films. Emily Barclay injects a bit of humour and emotion as Treloar's co-worker in the museum, who helps dig up material for him in his quest for the truth.

While the central concept behind the story is not necessarily new, screenwriters Mary Walsh and Alice Addison have put together an interesting story. Some may not like how all the storylines and characters, and past and present, intersect with one another, but on balance, everything generally worked for me in the end.

Co-writer Mary Walsh, actress Emily Barclay, and producer Jan Chapman were in attendance and did a Q&A after the film:

  • When asked about the difference between Barclay's roles in The Silence and another film at the festival, Suburban Mayhem, Chapman (who produced both movies) said the character in Suburban Mayhem was one of the wildest she's ever seen on screen, with no morals whatsoever, while in The Silence, Barclay is sweeter and softer, and she loves the interplay between Barclay and Roxburgh in the movie.
  • Mary Walsh said it wasn't one thing behind the movie, but rather a number of intersecting ideas. The genesis of the film came when she was working at the state library on a story on horse racing and discovered that there was a police and justice museum. Prior to that, Walsh had been given a copy of a book called Evidence, by Luc Sante, which contains a collection of old crime scene photos from New York around the turn of the 19th century. Walsh said she was not so much fascinated by the photos themselves, but more the "stories that happened just outside the frame." On talking to the curator of the police museum, he mentioned they had an exhibition a few years before on Sydney crime scene photos. He made a copy of the catalog for Walsh, which at the front had a note from the researcher who said after looking at the photos for months on end, the streets of Sydney came to life with these ghosts and stories from the past. That night Walsh met up with her co-writer, Alice Addison, and they began collaborating on ideas.
  • The Silence was actually filmed for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for airing on TV. It was originally shown in two parts, with the first part ending when Treloar comes across a body. They also did a telemovie cut, which is what was shown at the festival.
  • Jan said everyone was thrilled when Cate Shortland came on board, especially as she is incredible with atmosphere. Jan was interested in something that used photography, like Blow Up, or British director Stephen Poliakov. She was also interested in this "portrait of a male psyche", the inability to talk, the silence, and the melding of the character and the crime scene.
  • Only about 3 or 4 photographs in the movie are real photos, the rest were recreated for the film.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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