Klaus Koska Pascal Ulli Marlene Merz Ingrid Sattes Leon Lubitsch Hans-Peter Ulli Viktor Thomas Martin Hermann Schmidt Alexander Seibt Dr. Holba Ingold Wildenauer
Swiss cinema gets its first authentic latenight low-budgeter with “The Silence Within,” a larky, semi-surreal Kafkaesque thriller that has more energy and invention than a whole year of the country’s film production put together. This feature bow by Zurich-based directors Michael Steiner and Pascal Walder will fit easily into fantasy fests and latenight slots, and has enough production smarts to justify the young duo getting their hands on some 35mm stock and a decent amount of coin next time round.
Set in an unnamed Central European police state between the wars, story centers on a mild civil servant, Koska (Pascal Ulli), who accidentally witnesses the murder of the defense minister by some masked harlequins. After dutifully reporting it to the police, he finds himself targeted by gunmen on the orders of the justice minister, Lubitsch (Hans-Peter Ulli).
Lubitsch, who ordered the ministerial hit, wants to blame it on a terrorist group and set himself up as dictator. When the increasingly paranoid Koska holes up in his apartment, he’s offered a helping hand by his only friend, Marlene (Ingrid Sattes), a mysterious ballet teacher who lives opposite.
Though the film is littered with movie references from Welles to Hitchcock (plus a cross-cutting trick lifted straight from “Silence of the Lambs”), Steiner and Walder never pretend they’re making an art movie — a fact clearly appreciated by local auds at pic’s Locarno preem. Shooting on 16mm B&W, but with extensive storyboarding giving the film a planned, well-structured feel, the pic invokes the spirit of U.S. low-budget indies but applies it to very European (if ultimately familiar) material.
Performances by the three principals are confident, with legit actor Ulli lending some dramatic girth as the bullying dictator. At every technical level (lensing, cutting, music) there’s an evident desire not to let you nod off for a second, even down to a final joke after the end credits. Swiss-shot interiors and Budapest exteriors are cleverly integrated and give the movie a look way beyond its budget. Pic would benefit from an English title change to “Night of the Harlequins,” translating the original German.