When a young girl is murdered in exactly the same way as another girl 23 years earlier, it sends shock waves through a small town in the compelling German crime drama “The Silence.” Finely helmed sophomore outing for writer-director Baran Bo Odar (“Under the Sun”) gives its topnotch cast plenty of room to let rip with material that emphasizes psychology over procedure, while strong craft contributions further impress. Likely to perform well at home when it bows later in August domestically, “Silence” could make a little noise offshore as a niche release if handled right.
Opening sequence, set in July 1986, makes no mystery of how Pia Lange (Melina Fabian) dies: Caretaker Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen) rapes her and then bludgeons her in a field of wheat. His friend Timo (Wotan Wilke Moehring) looks on, horrified but incapable of intervening. Sommer is never caught.
Action then jumps ahead to 2009 and introduces around a dozen new characters whose paths intersect when 11-year-old Sinikka Weghamm (Anna Lena Klenke) goes missing. Parallels between the circumstances of her disappearance and of Pia’s death lead the police to suspect the same killer may be at work again.
Detectives Matthias Grimmer (Oliver Stokowski), recently widowed David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), and heavily pregnant Janna Glaeser (Jule Boewe) are assigned to the case, although just-retired cop Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaussner) can’t help getting involved, since he investigated Pia’s murder years before. In time, he develops a relationship with Pia’s still grief-stricken mother, Elena Lange (Katrin Sass, “Good Bye Lenin!”), who watches the case closely.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, a certain respectable father of two also watches the case with tense interest: Timo. It transpires that years earlier, Timo and Peer shared an interest in pedophilic porn. Timo goes in search of Peer, although it’s at first ambiguous whether he means to confront him or resume their bond.
With a script that calls for much crying and lamenting, pic could have easily descended into turgid meller territory were it not for the ensemble’s nuanced perfs. Moehring reps a particular standout, especially in a wordless scene in which he succumbs, quivering with both shame and pleasure, to his desires. A later scene between him and Sass’ Elena is also a doozy.
Screenplay, adapted by Odar from a German bestseller by Jan Costin Wagner, runs into some credibility issues with its big final-act reveal, and scenes in which everyone seems to be watching the same TV program at exactly the same time strike an implausible note. However, Odar’s direction is strong overall, especially in its deployment of telling details.
Robert Rzesacz’s editing faces the challenge of crosscutting between many storylines, but creates suspense fairly well, although the midsection feels a bit scattered. “Silence’s” strongest suit, however, is Nikolaus Summerer’s luminous lensing, which is aces in every way, from the unusual angles to the rich color grading that informs the film’s hot, high-summer palette, forming a counterpoint to the plot’s tragic darkness.