Silent Land

“Guests are aways welcome in our town,” police chief Giuseppe (Claudio Bigagli) tells Anna (Agnieszka Żulewska) some way into Aga Woszczyńska’s Silent Land (Cicha Ziemia). Indeed, this small town on an Italian island is very accommodating to Anna and her husband Adam (Dobromir Dymecki), vacationing there and bringing much-needed capital into the area.

This community happily embraces affluent tourists like this Polish couple – obvious outsiders, given their blonde hair, pale skin and inability to speak the local tongue. Locals meet the privileged tourists’ every demand, and welcome them into local customs.

At one point Anna is pulled – not entirely willingly – into a traditional dance in the town square. Fabio (Marcello Romolo), landlord of the luxuriously appointed villa that they have rented, even agrees to have the empty pool quickly repaired and filled for them, despite a local water shortage. Yet when illegal labourer Rahim (Ibrahim Keshk), finishing off his work at this private pool, suffers a freak, fatal accident, it will become clear, as diving instructor Arnaud (Jean Marc Barr) points out, that, “The island is safe, except for those who aren’t invited.”

Co-writing with Piotr Litwin, Woszczyńska is unflinching in her examination of the haute bourgeoisie’s indifference to the lives of the proletariat and the marginalised, even as her cinematographer Bartosz Swiniarski deploys wide shots to keep everybody at a cool distance under the hot sun. In other words, Silent Land plays very much in the key of Austria’s Michael Haneke, chillingly exposing class entitlement and the aloofness that the rich maintain – even in an emergency – from the grubby mortality of the poor.

Casually racist and distracted by military manoeuvres on the island, the police just want to close the case quickly, and are more annoyed than interested when CCTV footage emerges that contradicts Adam and Anna’s version of events. With the authorities proving altogether less curious about the tourists’ suspicious conduct than the evidence would require, Anna and Adam too choose at first to look away from the reality of what has happened, filling their stay with dancing, dining, diving and fucking.

Yet as the realisation dawns that they are in the clear, their nagging consciences take over, making their actions ever more odd. The guilt, shame and trauma of their own amoral selfishness keep bobbing back to the surface, and they must learn again not only to live with themselves and each other, but also – in the haunting final sequence – with a stranger who, despite his differences from them in class, race and language, will now forever be a guest at their table, welcome or otherwise.

Haneke on holiday? 3

Sunny yet chilly. 4

A wallop of an ending. 4

Directed by
Aga Woszczyńska

Dobromir Dymecki, Agnieszka Żulewska, Jean Marc Barr

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