Review: ‘The Silence’

Filmed in and around a small town in Tadjikstan, this lyrical mood piece from major Iranian helmer Mohsen Makhmalbaf explores the almost surreal world of a 10 -year-old blind boy who tunes musical instruments to earn money for his abandoned mother.

Filmed in and around a small town in Tadjikstan, this lyrical mood piece from major Iranian helmer Mohsen Makhmalbaf explores the almost surreal world of a 10 -year-old blind boy who tunes musical instruments to earn money for his abandoned mother. Lacking formal narrative, the film consists of a repetitive series of images as Makhmalbaf’s camera follows the young protagonist through his daily routine, a world that, despite the film’s title, is not a silent one; on the contrary, Khorshid has to use his ears to find his way through life. Even fans of Iranian cinema may find this a slight entry, one not destined to travel any further than the helmer’s name can take it.

The story, such as it is, is elliptical almost to the point of frustration. Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova) lives with his mother; his father left some years earlier for Russia and didn’t return. They rent a house by a river, but the rent’s overdue and the landlord is threatening eviction.

Every day, Khorshid travels by bus to the town where he works for a maker of stringed instruments. As a tuner, he’s not performing well and is threatened with the sack. During the course of the film, he somewhat mysteriously becomes obsessed with the four opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth.

There’s little more to the “story” than this bare outline, and the film, yet another Iranian production that centers on the world of a resourceful child, spends most of its brief running time exploring the sights and sounds that surround Khorshid — the women who sell bread and fruit beside the river; the vast market, where Khorshid one day gets lost; the young woman (Nadereh Abdelahyeva) who acts as his eyes, and the way she wears cherries instead of earrings and flower petals instead of nail varnish.

The film is visually rich, not least because the women in Tadjikstan dress in colorful clothes and are not confined to the all-encompassing black garments of Iranian women. In one intriguing scene, Nadereh becomes nervous when she sees a soldier with an automatic weapon — she fears, apparently without reason, that he’s there to arrest women who are not adequately covered. This seems to be an oblique, and quite bold, reference to the Iranian regime.

Despite its meager narrative, pic does weave a certain kind of magic spell thanks to the serenely beautiful images and the interesting use of sound and music.

The Silence

Iranian-French

Production

An MK2 Prods. (France)/Makhmalbaf Prods. (Iran) co-production. (International sales: MK2, Paris.) Produced by Marin Karmitz. Executive producer, Mohamed Ahmadi. Directed, written, edited by Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

Crew

Camera (color), Ebrahim Ghafori; sound, Behroz Shahamat; assistant director, Samirah Makhmalbaf. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 6, 1998. (Also in Montreal Film Festival --- noncompeting.) Running time: 76 MIN.

With

Khorshid - Tahmineh Normatova
Nadereh - Nadereh Abdelahyeva
Mother - Golbibi Ziadolahyeva
The Wandering Musician - Araz M. Mohamadli
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