A Silence


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Silence
"The film hovers in the grey area of Astrid's psyche, with long takes, often focused on Devos' features." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Silence speaks volumes in the latest film from Joachim Lafosse. The writer/director uses it as a dramatic tool throughout his film but it also refers to years of unspoken repression in the household run by Francois Scharr.

Daniel Auteuil - surely the Tom Hanks of Gallic cinema - plays against type as the well respected lawyer, who we meet in the middle of a high-profile case, with journalists permanently stationed outside the gates of the lavish home he lives in with wife Astrid (Emmanuelle Devos) and his teenage son Raphael (Matthieu Galoux). Lafosse's fictional tale draws on a real-life Belgian case that became known as the Hissel Affair, in which a high-powered lawyer acting on behalf of a family whose children were killed by a paedophile, himself became subject to scrutiny.

Beginning near the end, we see Astrid at a police station being given the news that Raphael has attempted to kill his father. Like everything in the film, the scene is shot in a measured way, avoiding any sort of theatrics as Astrid drinks in the news. What follows is the story of what has led up to this, a tale of secrecy and shame that has been poisoning the Scharr household slowly across more than two decades.

Although it is Francois whose actions are at the root of all this, he is mostly kept in the middle distance, with the focus firmly on Astrid, asking us to consider why her silence has endured for so long. “Without both of you, I couldn't do it,” Francois tells her and his son. He's referring to the case he's working on but there's another layer to this, particularly for Astrid. It hints at an emotional manipulation that may well have worked in tandem with less empathetic elements like the keeping up of appearances to maintain Astrid's stoicism with her husband against the world. Lafosse refuses to lead us by the hand, instead letting the fog of her decision making open up before us.

By avoiding sensationalism, Lafosse and his co-writer Thomas Van Zuylen (along with no less than five other “collaborators”) allow the tension to build. Even in a climatic scene, silence is employed so that the focus is on melancholy rather than melodramatics. Cinematographer Jean-François Hensgens' sinuous camerawork within the Scharr household, particularly at night, allows the feeling of unwelcome things happening in dark corners to permeate.

The film hovers in the grey area of Astrid's psyche, with long takes, often focused on Devos' features - narrowed to simply her eyes in the rearview mirror in a belter of an opening shot - allowing the actress to let her conflicting emotions flicker and flare. She may not be saying much, but the look on her face as she hunts in her husband's study at night and then makes a trip to the bin, almost shrieks with the pressure of repressed emotions in which silence may no longer quite have the upper hand. Lafosse asks us to listen carefully to that silence in order to catch the emotional echoes that lie within it.

Reviewed on: 28 Sep 2023
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Astrid is the wife of an acclaimed lawyer. Silenced for 25 years, her family balance suddenly collapses when her children initiate their search for justice.

Director: Joachim Lafosse

Writer: Chloé Duponchelle, Paul Ismael, Joachim Lafosse, Thomas van Zuylen

Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Devos, Salomé Dewaels, Larisa Faber, Denis Simonetta, Elsa Rauchs, Béatrice Paquet, Laurent Bozzi, Matthieu Galoux

Year: 2023

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Belgium, Luxembourg, France


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