Nine years after her debut with the toothsome ensemble comedy “Ice Cream, Chocolate and Other Consolations,” Quebecoise filmmaker Julie Hivon concocts a far more somber two-hander in “Silence Lies,” about the unique relationship between a creatively blocked photographer and her self-destructive subject. Intense perfs by Suzanne Clement and rising star Maxime Dumontier keep the pic fiercely on track as long as it stays an open-ended confrontation, but it’s ultimately derailed by anticlimactic revelations and artificial resolutions. “Silence,” which bowed Sept. 3 in Quebec, confirms Hivon’s talent, but probably will not project her onto the world stage.
Established photog Viviane (Clement) has been unable to reconnect with her muse since her brother and main model, Frederic (Sebastian Huberdeau), stormed off for undisclosed reasons, leaving her guilty and bereft. She keeps her business running by shooting local ads. When twentysomething mechanic Guillaume (Dumontier) shows up for a gig instead of the expected model, he immediately awakens her artistic interest through his resemblance to her estranged sibling, in both his physical appearance and his disconcerting intransigence. Viviane succeeds in hiring him, but only at his convenience.
Viviane’s probing interest in Guillaume awakens in him an equal fascination with her. As her camera encircles him, snapping furiously, he alternately rejects and seeks its gaze, daring Viviane to find the depths of his depravity. He breaks into her studio and interrupts the desultory pattern of her days, and she reciprocates by following him uninvited — as it turns out, he is a kind of artist too, engaging in bloody public acts of self-mutilation that both repulse and hypnotize her.
Though the characters are drawn together by a strong sensual pull, Hivon proposes nothing romantic. Despite their personal beauty (and Dumontier brings a smoldering sensuality to his angry, tortured young man), they are lured more by the trauma they sense in each other — and by their mutual skill at shaking each other up.
Unfortunately, Hivon then casts their relationship as a form of cathartic therapy, greatly oversimplifying the explosive chemistry of their encounters. Moreover, the secrets dramatically withheld and finally exposed fail to justify the suspense generated by their presentation.
Cinematographer Claudine Sauve perfectly matches the cool, steel-gray palette of a Montreal winter to the characters’ bleak interior states.