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Das letzte Schweigen

April 1, 2013
Das letzte Schweigen

It had to happen sometime: the breathless comparisons to other works in the pull-quotes used in a film trailer actually bear some connection to the truth. Das letzte Schweigen — subtitled in English as The Silence — really is a close cousin to the television series The Killing. So close, in fact, that I left the theater convinced that there must be some connection between the two. But no, it seems that Jan Costin Wagner’s novel was published in 2007, in parallel with Forbrydelsen, the Danish series on which The Killing is based, and with no identifiable connection between them. It’s safe to say, though, that if you enjoy the series you are likely to enjoy this film.

Like The Killing, Das letzte Schweigen is more concerned with the aftermath of a crime that shocks a normally peaceful community. In 1986 eleven-year-old Pia was assaulted and murdered in a field near her house in a small German town; her bicycle was found thrown into the wheat, and her body only found much later in a lake. Twenty-three years later to the date, thirteen-year-old Sinikka disappears. Her bicycle is found in the same field, a few meters from the cross erected in Pia’s memory. The police insist this is just a missing person case and not a murder investigation, but everyone seems to know that there must be some connection.

And here we get to the single, glaring flaw in Baran bo Odar’s adaptation: there is way too much here for a two-hour movie. While it’s fair to say that The Killing feels like it’s dragging on at times in order to explore all the tangents it raises, we see here that a movie just isn’t enough to really carry out this sort of project. I’m given to wonder if some sort of miniseries in the six hour range would be the ideal approach.

The “everyone” who knows there’s a connection first includes the original detective from Pia’s closed case, Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaußner), whose marriage crumbled around his obsession. He passes this focus to a younger detective, David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg, the spitting image of Paul Schneider), who has just rejoined the police while still recovering from his wife’s recent death, and who still has some serious issues left to resolve. Jahn is left to poke at the case in his oblique way by his boss (Oliver Stokowski) who wants to keep a lid on the case and resolve it tidily without getting drawn into reopening Pia’s murder. Also on the case is another officer (Jule Böwe), whose advanced pregnancy clearly points to other storylines that go unexplored.

And then there are Sinikka’s parents, Ruth and Karl Weghamm (Karoline Eighhorn and Roeland Wiesnekker), along with Pia’s mother (Katrin Saß), who must go through her old trauma all over again. Between them we not only see the strain that the crime puts on the family right away — as we do between Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton in The Killing — but we get a glimpse of what life is like decades down the line.

Most daringly, we also see Timo Friedrich (Wotan Wilke Möhring), who was there at Pia’s murder. He now has a wife and two children of his own, but what he hears on the news is so familiar that he’s sure it must have been his old acquaintance, Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen). Through them we examine what effect the original crime has had even on its own perpetrators.

Complaints about overstuffing the movie aside, Odar shoots the German countryside gorgeously. Each day is introduced with a camera sweeping through the air above the wheat fields. Most of the film is composed of precise, often planimetric compositions. He sets up overhead shots beautifully, lending a surreality to, for instance, the disposal of Pia’s body. And when he does choose to use a hand-held camera, he deploys it to achieve a specific intent, setting a shaky, claustrophobic shot apart from the film’s sad, cold, analytical norm. Every director who thinks they have a good reason for using hand-held camerawork needs to see how Odar does it.

The movie could easily have been split into two or three two-hour chunks, giving time to explore all the many threads the script raises and leaves hanging. Or maybe Odar wants to leave things unsatisfyingly cut off in the middle, as the Weghamms’ lives have been. Either way, Das letzte Schweigen is among the most darkly beautiful investigative crime films going.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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