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A Silence (Un Silence)

Belgian feature looks at a married couple, particularly a wife, and exposes the fragile nature of their relationship in shocking, scintillating detail - live from the 71st San Sebastian International Film Festival


The timing for A Silence (Joachim Lafosse, 2023) couldn’t be more fitting, because the film is being screened concurrent to accusations of rape being levelled at British sweetheart, Russell Brand. At this moment, millions all over Britain are asking themselves if it’s acceptable to believe a man based on how he appears to the public. Because that’s precisely the dissertation behind A Silence: men can wear their smiles in public, while their women carry the scars of a fraught relationship.

Emmanuelle Devos stars as Astrid, a spouse to a lawyer of some acclaim (played by Daniel Auteuil, from Claude Berri’s Jean de Florette, 1986). For 25 years, she has been subject to a shame she has done everything in her power to protect her children from. We see her interact with her husband who glares at her when she looks at his private possessions, and chides her when he thinks she’s straying from the role of dutiful wife. The shame she feels isn’t felt by her children, who decide to bring her private story to justice – and in doing so, expose her to the media she has largely left to her husband to fend off.

The plot is bone-thin, but between the shots lies Astrid, a fragile, middle-aged woman who spends much of her time either in tears or in shock. She regularly gives a look of deflection: Closing out conversations when they get too uncomfortable, or gazing out into the road where she longs to escape. In some ways it recalls the loneliness of another Belgian feature, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975), as both movies exhibit women in the most comfortable of settings (their homes), drifting into a despair they have unwittingly facilitated. But that’s where the two similarities end, as A Silence presents us with a woman who has spent much of her life in the arms of a celebrity figure, only to find that it’s more difficult to endure because it’s so public.

Devos is excellent: Barely off camera for a minute, the French actress has to carry the emotional undercurrents that cement the work. The same cannot be said for Matthieu Galoux, who plays the sullen son determined to present another side of his mother to the public. Galoux is stoic, but could be more so, and there are times he overplays the character beats. Much better is Auteuil who as Francois Schaar is delightfully evil to watch. He bears an altruistic face to the press, and a more sinister one in his personal life, but distinguishes the two personalities well enough for the audience to latch onto.

It’s unlikely that Galoux’s popularity will leap-frog from arthouse actor to Hollywood heart-throb. But Devos is excellent, providing a portrait of a woman calling out for salvation, from a marriage and institution that has shackled her with silence. Thankfully, that appears to be changing in the real world (as of the time of this review, four women have accused Brand of assault), and with a bit of luck, fewer women will have to suffer their demons in silence.

Un Silence (A Silence) just premiered at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in the New Directors Section.

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