Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Characters grapple with the sorts of conflict and antagonism that can crop up in any family but which here gather to a thunder-head intensity."

The different sounds of silence echo through this assured debut from Andrea Pallaoro (co-scripted with Orlando Tirado), in which the absence of all but ambient noise is used to illustrate everything from the liberation brought by a set of Walkman headphones to the unequivocal emptiness of death. That the latter is in store is not intended to come as a surprise given Pallaoro's choice of title, taken from the tragic Greek myth.

Instead the threat lurks in the background of his film, as his characters grapple with the sorts of conflict and antagonism that can crop up in any family but which here gather to a thunder-head intensity.

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Dairy farmer Ennis (BrĂ­an F O'Byrne) is God-fearing and gruff, living with his much-younger wife Christina (Catalina Sandrino Moreno) and their troop of five children in the timeless, dusty landscape of rural California. The area is suffering from drought and - in just one example of the heavy symbolism that is used in the movie - so is their marriage. Because Christina is hard of hearing and never wears her aids, the household business is conducted mostly in silence, although as a scene in which Ennis discusses the drought with a fellow farmer shows he is a man of few words at the best of times.

Pallaoro is interested in the meeting point between what feels calm and what foreboding. He sets up this tension from the very start when we see a man, who we quickly learn is Ennis, floating face down in a pond while a trio of children, waist deep in the water next to him, stare at him silently. A flurry of activity later and it emerges that dad was simply 'playing dead', but this sort of moment - moving the mood from shadow to light and, particularly, vice versa is scattered through the film.

Despite the surface simplicity of the plot - which revolves around infidelity - the individual conflict which some of the children feel intensifies the sense of dread. Rebellion for the eldest girl (Mary Mouser) comes in the form of singing in Italian, secret lipstick and a juvenile snog in the grass, whereas her brother (Maxim Knight) finds ways to defy his parents through the simple acts of peeping through windows and feeding the dog from his plate.

Pallaoro - helped enormously by great cinematography from Chayse Irvin - also creates tension in his framing, for example, juxtaposing half-glimpsed sex in the back of a scene with a baby gurgling happily in the foreground or focusing on the grim faces of a child and his father driving off in a pick-up as their dog dwindles into the background, despite desperately trying to keep up.

Pallaoro's approach is measured and menacing, and his ending rings out through the silence.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2014
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Tensions rise in the family of a dairy farmer.

Director: Andrea Pallaoro

Writer: Andrea Pallaoro, Andrea Pallaoro, Andrea Pallaoro, Orlando Tirado, Orlando Tirado, Orlando Tirado

Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brían F. O'Byrne, Mary Mouser, Ian Nelson, Maxim Knight, Jake Vaughn, Kevin Alejandro, Patrick Birkett, Angel Amaral, Tara Buck, Granville Ames

Year: 2013

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Italy, Mexico, US


EIFF 2014

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