Monday, December 11, 2023
HomeentertainmentMovie News‘A Silence’ Review: Joachim Lafosse’s Dark and Probing Pedophilia Drama Turns Decidedly...

‘A Silence’ Review: Joachim Lafosse’s Dark and Probing Pedophilia Drama Turns Decidedly Bleak

In the films of Belgian auteur Joachim Lafosse, families tend to be torn apart from the inside, brought down by deep-seated psychological baggage (The Restless, Private Property), extremely bad behavior (Private Lessons, Keep Going) or a history of abuse (Our Children). For his latest feature, A Silence (Un silence), the writer-director has managed to pack all three factors into a single movie, focusing on a bourgeois clan that gradually unravels as past and present offenses come back to haunt them.

Like the rest of Lafosse’s work, it’s a penetrating, artfully made drama, this one starring Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Devos and newcomer Matthieu Galoux, turning in quietly riveting performances. But it also overstretches itself, with too many pivotal events coinciding at once, making the plot less credible while dissipating the emotional effect of its many revelations. After premiering in San Sebastian, the film will continue its festival run, followed by theatrical play in France, Belgium and other Euro territories.

A Silence

The Bottom Line A tough if tactful watch.

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection)
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Devos, Matthieu Galoux, Salomé Dewaels, Jeanne Cherhal, Louise Chevillotte
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Screenwriters: Joachim Lafosse, Thomas Van Zuylen, Chloé Duponchelle, Paul Ismaël
1 hour 40 minutes

The “silence” of the title is something that has overshadowed the Schaar family for far too long. You can feel it in the hushed atmosphere of their tasteful urban mansion, where the high-profile criminal attorney, François (Auteuil), lives with his wife, Astrid (Devos), and their adopted teenage son, Raphael (Galoux). The three don’t seem to fraternalize much when they bump into each other, almost by accident, at odd hours of the day or night. Otherwise, everyone remains confined to their own private space.

There’s a reason for this — actually a bunch of reasons, several which we’ll learn about as the narrative progresses and a few deep, dark family secrets are brought to the surface. But at first, the household is overwhelmed by the intense media spotlight on a case of pedophilia and murder that François is in the midst of prosecuting. We don’t know all the terrible details, of which Lafosse and his three co-writers provide only pieces. But it’s clearly something that has captivated the local press, who remain parked outside the Schaar’s front gate at all times, waiting to toss questions at François whenever he shows his face.

If that situation isn’t complicated enough — François has been representing the young victims for five years already, and the trial has taken over his life — it becomes a veritable shitstorm when the lawyer’s daughter, Caroline (Louise Chevillotte), confronts Astrid about something awful that happened in their own family over 25 years ago. Lafosse withholds key information about those events for quite a while, and it’s not worth spoiling them here. But suffice it to say that, coincidentally or not — and therein lies one of the film’s key questions — François’ professional and personal lives come clashing together in a highly unpleasant way, turning his house upside-down.

The story is mainly told from Astrid’s point of view as she grapples with the fallout of the revelations, which not only involve her husband but also Raphael, an emotionally distraught high schooler who finds himself swept into the proceedings. In the film’s dense second half, the viewpoint begins to switch between mother and son, showing how they’re both forced to bear the brunt of François’ unspeakable acts and behavior. Another question Lafosse asks is: Can you pardon a loved one for past crimes, or for being in need of serious psychiatric help? Or should you just let them be punished?

Such questions seem to be a specialty of Lafosse’s, a director whose best movie to date, the 2012 Cannes prizewinner, Our Children, made the viewer somehow feel deep empathy for a woman who killed all five of her own kids. Here, however — and despite some remaining doubts that we’re left with — it’s hard to get behind François when there’s a pile of evidence stacked against him.

This is also one of the main problems with the film’s structure: So many things happen in such a short time span — a big trial, a big family secret suddenly coming out, a big new infraction committed by either François or Raphael — that it stretches credulity, even if thematically speaking the events are all related, both psychologically and criminally.

Lafosse has never been a very cheery director, but A Silence is probably his bleakest film to date. From the very first shot, regular DP Jean-François Hensgens frames the action tightly, only revealing part of the rain-soaked car window as Astrid drives to meet with a cop (Jeanne Cherhal) who’s been trailing François for some time. The claustrophobic viewpoint, from which we can never learn the full truth, and where it seems like the walls are forever closing in, perfectly encapsulates the Schaars’ situation.

It’s a gloomy situation indeed, which isn’t to say that a movie about child abuse and murder is supposed to be some kind of upbeat joy ride. But perhaps Lafosse lays the sauce on too thick this time, and although he again probes the moral quandaries of characters facing up to awful truths, he seems to have already reached his verdict.

Full credits

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival (Official Selection)
Production companies: Stenola Productions, Samsa Film Les Films du Losange, Prime Time
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Devos, Matthieu Galoux, Salomé Dewaels, Jeanne Cherhal, Louise Chevillotte
Director: Joachim Lafosse
Screenwriters: Joachim Lafosse, Thomas Van Zuylen, Chloé Duponchelle, Paul Ismaël
Producers: Anton Iffland-Stettner, Eva Kuperman, Jan Thiltges, Régine Vial, Alexis Dantec, Antonio Lombardo
Cinematographer: Jean-François Hensgens
Production designer: Anna Falguères
Costume designer: Isabel Van Renterghem
Editor: Damien Keyeux
Sales: Les Films du Losange
In French
1 hour 40 minutes

THR Newsletters

Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day

Subscribe Sign Up



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Featured NEWS