European Union Film Festival: Ireland's Silence uncovers ghosts during poignant, poetic journey
Starring Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride. In English and Gaelic with English subtitles. Unrated
The Irish contribution to this year's Vancouver edition of the European Union Film Festival, Silence, is categorized as a dramatic feature but is more properly described as a docudrama, if only because of its structure. Real places and real people, as themselves (for the most part), illustrate a poetic and sometimes poignant journey to the protagonist’s childhood home.
When Georgia Straight film writer Mark Harris spoke recently to Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride (who cowrote Silence with director Pat Collins), he described the unusual film’s setup thusly: "The people that you see are real people, and the stories they tell are real stories. But the point of view of the main character is entirely fictional."
He went on to explain that "certain elements happen to be true to my own life. It was based loosely on the kind of person I am, although I’m neither a soundman nor a returning exile".
In Silence, the character Eoghan, an Irish sound recorder, is living in Berlin and takes a job to record natural sounds uncontaminated with human-caused noise. He travels back to the land of his birth, rents a car, and starts driving. When he tells a helpfully talkative bartender that he’s “not really collecting stories; it’s more quiet I’m after,” the publican points out: “Be careful with that. Too much quietness will drive a fellow mad.”
That warning does not turn out to be prophetic. If anything, it is the difficulty in finding locations sufficiently removed from civilization and its sounds that exasperates Eoghan, although one would never guess at his inner feelings by the calm, almost resigned expression on his face throughout most of the film.
Rather, it is his encounters with people—a writer living in his dead mother’s remote countryside house, an elderly man harvesting sea creatures among weed-covered seaside rocks, a young woman tending a small museum of memories in a deserted fishing village—that illuminate his feelings and thoughts about the nature of silence.
The quest for quiet--which he and the writer agree is merely what happens between noises, that you must first have sound to have silence—soon becomes a search, possibly a subconscious one, for something else, something that has its roots in birth and death, memory and mental ghosts, exile and return.
A trip to a former fishing village leads, perhaps inevitably, to his childhood home on the near-uninhabited Tory Island, off County Donegal, where he hasn’t set foot in 15 years.
A visit to the graveyard, a talk with one of the few remaining “old people”, and a walk through what may be his childhood home provide the somewhat elegiacal conclusion to what might have been a carefully plotted itinerary after all.
What does seem plain in all this is that however transitory human soundscapes may be, people settle landscapes in perpetuity through the sounds of memory, the voices of ghosts.
Whether or not that remains true if there are no people there to remember, well…
Google tree, falls, and forestSilence screens at the Cinematheque on Monday, November 26, at 7 p.m.