The Bay Of Silence


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Bay Of Silence
"Kurylenko, increasingly impressive across the span of her work, is on fine form."

In the majestic surroundings of the Bay of Silence in Liguria, Will (Claes Bang) can think of nothing but Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko). Intense, vital, full of passion, she's the very image of his dream woman, so he asks her to marry him. It's the start of a blissful period in his life, but the good times don't last. A little over a year later, she disappears, taking with her the twin girls he had learned to love as his own and their baby son.

Part tragedy, part mystery, always suffused with romance, the Bay Of Silence is an adaptation of the novel by Lisa St Aubin de Terán, a challenging thing to capture onscreen. Kurylenko, increasingly impressive across the span of her work, is on fine form as the troubled young woman with secrets she can't speak and may not even fully understand herself, borne downwards by the weight of the past and struggling with mental illness. When she's onscreen, the story is easy to follow, making emotional sense even when the logic of it remains obscure. At other times, director Paula van der Oest struggles to communicate a narrative that largely takes place inside the characters' heads, but for viewers willing to assemble the pieces for themselves - as many mystery fans prefer to - there's a satisfying puzzle here.

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There's some difficult material here and people who are easily distressed by narratives about harm coming to children should watch with caution. Van der Oest is never gratuitous in her depictions, however, and this is also important at a thematic level, as the film explores some of the ways that such suffering is elided and reframed. In doing so it asks questions around how social habits which prioritise politeness and the avoidance of discomfort can be exploited by those who don't want anybody looking too deeply.

The act of looking is also an important theme here. Rosalind works as a visual artist and has grown up around photographers. In an early scene she's given a necklace, decorated in a way that doesn't quite fit with her self image. We constantly see her image captured in different ways, observed by other people in photographs or by herself, in a mirror, as if looking at a stranger. Sometimes she seems to be two people, like the two bays, like the two girls who can switch with ease from being confident, lively children to sallow-faced ghouls, watching the world with accusing eyes. Sometimes Rosalind's fantasies - if fantasies they are - seem to mirror actual events, even to presage them.

In her visual exploration of the superficial, van der Oest risks presenting viewers with something that itself appears too slick, too light, to bear serious consideration. To see what lies beneath, you'll need to take responsibility for your own choice of focus. It's a difficult film, one in which every small error of judgement - both narratively and technically - is magnified. Don's let yourself be dazzled - but, if it speaks to you, be prepared to watch again and again.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2020
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The Bay Of Silence packshot
Will believes his wife Rosalind is innocent of a suspected murder, only to discover the devastating truth behind her past links her to another unsolved crime.
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Director: Paula van der Oest

Writer: Caroline Goodall, based on the book by Lisa St Aubin de Terán

Starring: Claes Bang, Olga Kurylenko, Brian Cox, Caroline Goodall, Assaad Bouab, Alice Krige

Year: 2020

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK


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