A Film a Week - Silence 6-9 / Isyhia 6-9

 previously published on Cineuropa

This year, the Greek Weird Wave has added another name to its roster of auteurs. Christos Passalis, formerly recognised for his acting (he played the role of the son in Dogtooth and the part of Manolis in The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea), has turned his attention to filmmaking, first with the Berlinale-premiered experimental essay documentary The City and the City, which he co-directed with Syllas Tzoumerkas, and now also with a fiction feature, Silence 6-9, which Passalis directed on his own. The Crystal Globe Competition at Karlovy Vary might prove to be a fitting launch pad for a cryptic, dream-like, retro-futurist love story like this.

The title comes from one of the key rules in the largely abandoned dystopian town that our hero Aris (Passalis himself) comes to: the inhabitants must remain in complete silence between 6 and 9 o’clock in the morning, so the antennas surrounding the town can do their recording. And what do they record? Anything related to the people of the town who have gone missing, not to be found. But before they went missing, they recorded their own cassette tapes so that the others who stayed would be able to remember them.

Similarly to the beginning of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, here, a stranger comes to a strange town to do a strange job for a strange man, called the Manager. His new post is not yet entirely his, and he has to wait for confirmation from the Manager, who might have lost his mind. While waiting, he is stationed in a hotel with Anna (played by Passalis’ co-star in both Dogtooth and The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea, Angeliki Papoulia), a woman whose job it is to act in a show based on the recorded cassettes of the missing people. Since they have a lot of time on their hands in a desolate town, they get closer and closer until they fall in love. Or is it just a dream that two strangers share while comatose in the hospital, perhaps a reference to Christopher Nolan’s Inception?

Stories set in an altered world, such as a dystopian future or present, demand some additional attention to the world-building details, and are usually hard to pull off in a brisk format of just 80 minutes. In that regard, Passalis’ work is commendable in all three roles he takes on here – as the leading actor, director and co-screenwriter. His vision is well written to the extent that it keeps the audience intrigued for the whole running time, while slowly revealing the information, and it is also perfectly executed on a visual level, along the lines of the Greek Weird Wave classics, with thoroughly composed and highly symmetrical, largely static shots of an arid landscape lensed in sun-bleached colours by Giorgos Karvelas, accompanied by the melancholic and toned-down retro soundtrack by Yiannis Loukos and Antonis Georgou. The production design by Márton Ágh, in which there is no item from a period more recent than the mid-1990s (apart from the antennas), is also one of the highlights, while the love story is convincingly powered by the chemistry between the two lead actors.

The only potential trouble with Silence 6-9 is its cryptic nature. A film like this is clearly a metaphor for something (or things), and the answer to the question of what this movie might be about will not please some audiences, especially given the potential meaning of the anti-cassette and anti-silence protests, and the new government that leads them. But still, Silence 6-9 is a smooth blend of style, substance, emotion and provocation that leaves the viewer with plenty to ruminate on.

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