Margarethe Von Trotta’s agonizingly up-to-the-minute political thriller, “The Long Silence,” is a devastating depiction of a society almost in the grip of anarchy. Poignant and grim, film nevertheless ends on a note of muted optimism, and could well make an impact internationally. It’s one of Von Trotta’s best.
The very first image sets the mood: A middle-aged couple stroll down a beach at dusk; the camera pulls back to reveal they’re surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards.
The husband, Marco (Jacques Perrin), is an investigating judge on the verge of prosecuting senior government ministers and businessmen for corruption and arms trafficking. The wife, Carla (Carla Gravina), is a successful gynecologist who is wracked with fear for her husband’s safety.
Pic’s first half beautifully depicts the scary, restricted lifestyle of the couple for whom a trip to a favorite restaurant is a logistical nightmare. As Marco turns up more and more evidence, through an informer held in a secret place, his life is constantly threatened via anonymous phone calls. Security is tightened further, but, as it turns out, in vain.
At midpoint, the inevitable occurs. Marco and the informer are assassinated and, soon afterward, Marco’s colleague also is murdered. At first devastated, Carla gradually resolves to continue her husband’s work, using notes and documents he’d hidden away, and with the help of the informer’s widow. She gives stories to the press and helps produce a TV docu in which widows of assassinated judges speak out. But now her life, too, is in danger.
Gravina is excellent as the initially frightened, ultimately angry and vengeful woman, and there are strong supporting performances from Perrin as her dedicated, doomed husband, Ottavia Piccolo as her best friend, Guiliano Montaldo as Marco’s boss and Alida Valli as Carla’s troubled mother.
Von Trotta creates a genuinely frightening atmosphere in which the investigators and their families live in constant dread. Snippets of near-current news items add to the film’s air of authenticity. Director paces the film with unerring precision, and the result is a thriller that never relaxes its grip during a very tight 93 minutes. A typically vibrant Ennio Morricone score helps a lot.
Ending may at first glance seem too bleak for some, but a coda suggests that Italy’s salvation lies in its women. The film, which is dedicated to the late producer Franco Cristaldi, seems designed to rouse public opinion against organized crime and official corruption.
All tech credits are first-rate.