Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Sound of Silence

If ever given the chance to teach a film course, I'd likely devote an entire unit to films that have no musical soundtrack at all. I'd show Fritz Lang's "M," which builds to a blaring, shattering climax that brews silently through the whole, perfectly composed picture. I'd show the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," which replaces background music with thunder, wind, and the click-click-boom of guns. I'd also show Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," last year's daring and confident glimpse into a harrowing period in the lives of two Romanian college girls who risk their freedoms and relationships so one can have an illegal abortion...quietly.

After much anticipation, I finally caught up with the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Palme D'Or winner yesterday and was surprised with what I found. The film, while brilliantly acted, smartly scripted and shot with sharp precision, is astoundingly simple, offering only a brief, voyeuristic view of a desperate decision that deeply affects two women. The characters are strong, the tensions are high, but what hit me the hardest was the lack of music, a major artistic choice that, when done right, causes everything else in the movie to resonate infinitely more. Like "M," "No Country," and even "The Blair Witch Project" (another one I'd probably show), "4 Months" is one of those films that has the power to rivet you even when the screen is black and all you can hear is a character's breath. And it sticks with you for much longer than its 113 minute duration. The movie itself is simply a fly-on-the-wall, 'I dare you' invitation to share in an emotionally wrenching experience that lasts just a short while. What the movie makes you feel and makes you think about (contributed to by a shockingly long shot of a practically unheard of camera subject) sticks around for much longer.

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