Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) and Anna (Agnieszka Żulewska), a rich and beautiful Polish couple, rent a holiday home on a scenic Italian island. When they find out that the advertised pool isn’t working, they complain, and Rahim (Ibrahim Keshk) is employed to fix it. Then an accident happens that could have been prevented. Silent Land explores the way the resultant guilt – and the lack of it – affects Adam and Anna’s seemingly perfect marriage.
Aga Woszczynska’s Silent Land, like its central couple, is ice cold. Despite the beautiful Italian surrounds, happiness is in short supply; the sun is more oppressive than it is welcome. Adam and Anna are almost aggressively blonde, and have no soft edges. They don’t have any personality beyond their function as contemptible symbols of the bourgeoisie. Their disdain when demanding their struggling landlord fix the pool – despite their accommodation’s proximity to the sea, and that the island is suffering through a water shortage – set us immediately against them.
Which is kind of the problem. The film is meant to dissect the way that guilt affects the couple, and the thing is, it doesn’t seem to. Not in any substantial way. They have their wavering moments, and an admittedly striking final scene implies that they aren’t done processing the events of their holiday by the time Silent Land is over, but there’s no tangible, lasting change in their demeanours. And if that’s the point of the movie – that the rich are so immorally disconnected from the poor that even a tragedy they could have prevented doesn’t shift their point of view – well, is that really a surprise to anyone? There’s an unsatisfying dearth of further insight here, and that makes the film’s already punishing pace harder to endure.
Because the central couple are so chilly and underwritten, scenes spent solely in their company tend to be rather dull; thankfully Silent Land picks up a little when their world starts to expand beyond the two of them. Their clumsy interactions with the police provide the film’s few blessed moments of humour (viewers might recognise the actor playing the young sergeant charged with the unenviable task of translating for Adam and Anna as Elvis Esposito, aka My Brilliant Friend’s Marcello Solara). Another couple on the island (Jean-Marc Barr and Alma Jodorowsky) offer more warmth, but their characters are also underdeveloped.
Although her screenplay – co-written with Piotr Litwin – is frustratingly thin, Woszczynska’s direction is a lot more interesting; this is her debut feature, but you wouldn’t know that from the visual acumen on display here (it of course helps that the film is set in such beautiful surroundings, and Bartosz Swiniarski’s cinematography certainly makes the most of them). Her blocking and use of offscreen space, especially in the scenes surrounding the central incident, are always compelling. With a more worthwhile story to tell, she could very well be a director to keep an eye on.