Silent Night

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Silent Night
"The director shows strong control of the film's mood, generating tension from something as simple as a bottle of vodka."

The setting is Christmas but the title, unsurprisingly, is ironic in Piotr Domalewski's debut film set against the festive season. Adam (Dawid Ogrodnik) is heading home to Poland for a surprise seasonal visit, catching a coach while filming a video for his unborn child, before hiring a smart-looking motor for the weekend, with the express desire of impressing his family.

The economic reality for many in Poland is illustrated by Adam's decision to move the the Netherlands for cash, as one of his family members puts it, "Times are always shitty for people like us" and, perhaps more pointedly, "To earn that little, you need a college degree". This sense of striving for a better life and keeping up appearances runs throughout the film, which though it touches on grim themes including domestic abuse and alcoholism, deals with them using a healthy dose of black humour and, against the odds, maintains a sense of hope. Domalewski doesn't need to labour the point, he simply sows the seeds of broader social and economic realities through the backdrop of his film, while still allowing his characters to take centre stage.

Copy picture

Adam's stop-off to see his mum (Agnieska Suchora) and dad (Arkadiusz Jakubik) turns out to be driven by multiple motives, the news that he is to be a father in some ways the least of them, but the welcome he receives is decidedly mixed, particularly from his younger, left-at-home brother Pawel (Tomasz Zietek). Throw in his sister Jolka (Maria Debska) and a gaggle of extended family and the scene is set for complex relationships to pull apart as quickly as Christmas crackers.

The director shows strong control of the film's mood, generating tension from something as simple as a bottle of vodka. Initially innocuous, it comes to haunt the scenes we spy it in, morphing from a source of celebration to something with the potential of a loaded gun.

Domalewski's scripting is also impressive, with enough time given to each member of the ensemble cast to firmly establish their character, without losing the pace at which events tend to move at big gatherings. This fluidity is matched by the camerawork from cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, which helps to retain movement even when the family are round a table, with full use also made of the video camera, both as a different viewing perspective and a plot device. There are moments of crisis and anger but Domalewski perfectly captures the way that this sort of grouping is simply too busy to indulge protracted arguments - family can sometimes be poisonous but it usually proves to be its own antidote.

Reviewed on: 26 Apr 2018
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Silent Night packshot
A man's Christmas visit to his family proves to be turbulent.

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