If Claes Bang didn’t exist so suavely before our eyes, you’d say they don’t make movie stars like him any more: debonair, mature but with sparky wit, and possessed of a flexible accent that is at once evasive and distinctly European. Since breaking out aged 50 in Rubin Östlund’s “The Square,” he could have exclusively cashed in his raised profile on the kind of generically “foreign” villain parts and Europudding filler that tend to await such actors these days, yet he seems to be finding throwback vehicles to match his elegantly out-of-time stardom. First came the slippery, well-dressed art-scene noir “The Burnt Orange Heresy” and World War 2 counterfeiting drama “The Last Vermeer”; now, in a comparably neo-Hitchcockian vein, comes “The Bay of Silence,” in which his coolly compelling man-adrift charisma — backed by sturdy support from Olga Kurylenko and Brian Cox — keeps a splintering mystery together.
Within its bracket, “The Bay of Silence” is an ambitious affair, marrying a knotty whodunwhat puzzle plot to a toughly emotive investigation into sexual abuse and trauma. If the latter aspect — addressed more frankly and empathetically than it would have been in the old-school potboilers emulated here — can’t entirely fit into the script’s trim genre brief, the film benefits from the quiet human touch that Dutch helmer Paula van der Oest brings to its more expected thriller mechanics. Since her sprightly 2001 romantic comedy “Zus & Zo” landed her an Oscar nomination, van der Oest has moved fluidly between brisk genre pieces and deeper-feeling dramas; that ambidexterity comes into play here.
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Caroline Goodall’s screenplay — the first by the veteran character actress, who also takes a producing credit and plays a modest supporting role — has a trickier time shuffling between hardboiled and heartsore modes as it unfolds, though it’s crisp and intriguing in the first half. It’s adapted from a brief 1986 novel by British writer Lisa St. Aubin de Teran, which alternated in perspective between the two halves of a troubled married couple. Yet aside from a cryptic black-and-white prologue — centered on an emotionally distressed teenage girl as she stashes a briefcase in a coastal cave and flees — the film largely assumes the viewpoint of Will (Bang), a well-off London architect introduced on an amorous vacation with his even wealthier photographer girlfriend Rosalind (Kurylenko) in Italy’s Liguria region. They seem carefree enough, though the film none-too-subtly stresses the significance of the area’s idyllic Bay of Silence, evidently swimming with unhappy secrets.
In short order, they marry, conceive a child, and move into a rambling Victorian house with Rosalind’s twin daughters (Lilibet and Litiana Biutanaseva) from a previous relationship. Yet an accident that triggers the premature birth of their baby son, Amedeo, also unlocks deep-seated mental health problems in Rosalind, linked to past trauma she’d never shared with her bewildered husband. Soon enough, she’s scratching at the walls, accusing others of abducting Amedeo’s non-existent twin, and one night disappears altogether, taking the children and their nanny Candy (Shalisha James-Davis) with her.
As Will’s murky search for her — and the truth behind her breakdown — takes him from seedy London nightclubs to a sinister Normandy fishing village to a plush Swiss sanatorium, he learns more about his missing wife than he ever did in their time together. However, the caginess with which her mother Vivian (Alice Krige) and doting stepfather Milton (Brian Cox), a louche art dealer heavily invested in Rosalind’s photographic prowess, meet his enquiries suggests there’s more to know still.
Aided considerably by Bang’s sleek, sympathetic resolve in the man-who-knew-too-little part, “The Bay of Silence” holds our attention throughout, yet the plot’s surfeit of red herrings pile up even after the nature of the mystery — and its thinly disguised villain — become clear, a shade too early, to the audience. Given Kurylenko’s committed, feverish performance, one would perhaps like to unravel more of this through her eyes, rather than via her husband’s piecing together of secondhand memory shards. When the film operates as a routine thriller, it runs effectively on the push-pull dynamic between Bang’s bemused seeker and Cox’s defensive guardian: The “Succession” star is in purring, quizzical mode as a man who protects truths and lies with equal caution.
Attractively shot on location in London, Liguria and craggy coastal Scotland — filling in for Normandy, and bringing a particular storm-blue menace to it — “The Bay of Silence” often indulges in an alluring travelogue look that plays into its old-fashioned genre surface. Things get more interesting, as they always do, when we delve into what lies beneath. The film’s pained, ugly revelations finally carry more weight than any amateur detective work leading up to them: a #MeToo reckoning hidden within a glinting, noir-esque hall of mirrors.