A journey of discovery begins when sound recordist, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride, returns to his native Ireland on a quest to escape from manmade noise. Roaming the wilds and echoing landscapes of Donegal he finds it near impossible to find peace and quiet. The only bearable sounds are those of nature: the call of a bird, the babbling of a brook, or the buzzing of a bee. Throughout his travels he encounters a series of other humans used to living on the periphery of society and is told by a barkeeper to be careful, as “too much quietness will drive a fella mad”.
With his microphone standing unattended in sublime and desolate vistas, the audience are often left with minutes passing and total inactivity – save the howling wind. While the main character is desirous of silence, the audience is probably not expecting such stifling scenes and may find that time stretches out and isolates them. The film is successful in raising awareness that we live in an age of inescapable noise and constant communication, but leaves one a little uncomfortable with such inaction.
The movie acknowledges that humans are naturally sociable beings – whenever Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride encounters another soul in these empty landscapes they are immediately drawn to one another and share tales. Pat Collins, the director, states that the film was largely influenced by travelling folklore collectors from the 1930s and 1940s. Silence has moved this into a contemporary setting, with many of the characters narrating their own lives in rural Ireland. Thus the film is part fiction, part documentary.
Collins’ love affair with remote settings and silence leads to moments of philosophical musing. At times the raging winds are likened to the voices of the dead wailing their untold stories, stories that were deemed too insignificant for the history books. These narratives of ordinary people have empty swing-sets and abandoned houses providing visuals. The script proclaims that there is “wisdom” and “infinity” in silence: human life comes out of silence, akin to the first note of a song. All life and movement is like a song … until our final breath, where we are again met by silence. This is a challenging movie to watch but leaves a dawning comprehension of what it is like to never set down familial roots, showing how loud silence can truly be.
Our rating: ***