Theaters running “Silentium” will be anything but quiet once appreciative auds get a load of this Austrian comedy-crimer featuring a dissheveled detective, a Catholic school’s darkest secret and even darker humor. Reuniting the team who hit the gong with “Come, Sweet Death” in 2000, pic hit no. 1 position last September on home turf and looks set for solid Euro B.O., with strong potential for wider sales and possible U.S. remake.
Like the previous collaboration between helmer Wolfgang Murnberger, thesp Josef Hader and novelist Wolf Haas, “Silentium” is an adaptation of a detective story by Haas. Where previous pic focused more on humorous elements, “Silentium” works on both comic and thriller levels. Miraculously, despite lashings of black humor, pic never trivialises its crimer aspects.
More Elliott Gould than Humphrey Bogart, Brenner (Austrian comedian Josef Hader) is a grifting private dick in the Marlowe mold who’s a dead cat’s bounce away from hitting bottom. Working as a store detective, Brenner stumbles into the life of newly widowed Konstanze Dornhelm (Maria Kostlinger), society daughter of a Salzburg arts administrator (Peter Streimelweger).
Konstanze’s late hubby was a vocal critic of the local Catholic seminary, due to his status as a sex-abuse survivor. She suspects he died from foul play – a suspicion already confirmed for viewers by his execution prior to the opening credits.
The alluring Konstanze employs the boozy Brenner to prove a link between her husband’s death and the seminary. Effortlessly posing as homeless, Brenner moves into the seminary courtesy of the street people’s welfare program operated by Father Fitz (Joachim Krol). A squad of Filipino maids is about the most suspicious thing that Brenner sees; but when he starts asking questions, all the staff, from the suspicious handyman (Georg Friedrich) to the affable padre, clam up.
In one of several audacious scenes, Brenner knocks himself out while lugging a giant crucifix downstairs. Concussed, he’s woken by Berti (Simon Schwarz), an ambulance-driving buddy who has a seminary-financed sideline in picking up mysterious packages from five-star hotels and delivering them to the church. Berti claims his activities are harmless, but it is enough to confirm Brenner’s suspicions about the church’s questionable activities.
Meanwhile the seminary’s head cook, Di Ding (Rosie Alvarez), has confiscated the ID papers of a captive Filipino woman, and is being pursued by the two thugs who killed Dornhelm at pic’s outset. Yarn becomes increasingly outrageous and convoluted as various threads intertwine, but the noirish atmosphere prevails even as the laughs continue to mount.
Film stalls only once — and briefly at that — before a car chase in an auto lot accelerates the momentum once more. While the outcome is a million miles away from the direction it first points in, script will suit conspiracy theorists.
Despite rapid pacing, pic also finds time to shoehorn in a funny hommage to “North By Northwest” as well as references to “Chinatown,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “A Night At the Opera.”
Performances manage to keep pace with the razor-sharp script, and both Hader are Schwarz are aces as the bumbling investigative duo. Tech credits quietly do the job, though a couple of CGI dream sequences border on the superfluous. Score by Sofa Surfers, augmented by music from Salzburg’s own Mozart, keeps the atmosphere taut. Per script, title is Latin for “Shut Up.”