Tuesday, 14 February 2017


Transmission Films

Like deities, some filmmakers inspire religious-like devotion. Martin Scorsese is one such director: in the eyes of many, fanboys and critics alike, he can do no wrong. He is God Almighty. Myself, I'm yet to be converted. It's not that I don't admire his talent or the oeuvre it's produced, but there's a machismo, a level of testosterone propelling most of his films which just does not appeal.

That said, I do love Scorsese's less masculine films: The Age of Innocence (1993), Kundun (1997), Hugo (2011). Even The Aviator (2004), despite its male protag, falls more into my wheelhouse: old Hollywood, a tortured soul, Cate Blanchett. What then to make of Silence?

Adapted from the novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence has been a passion project of Scorsese's for more than 30 years; the story of Portuguese Jesuit priests defying religious persecution in 16th century Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed and those who practice, or preach from the Bible are either forced to denounce their faith or face death.

And while it may be a more affecting film for the faithful, both Catholic and Scorsese devotees, there is much to admire in the director's labour of love: whether that be the cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto, capturing the cool beauty of the island terrain (Taiwan standing in for 16th century Japan); or Andrew Garfield's stoic performance (far less ingratiating than his other 'man of faith' role of 2016, in Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge).

Garfield plays Father Rodrigues, who along with fellow Jesuit Father Garupe (Adam Driver), travels to Japan to find their former teacher, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, woefully miscast), who is rumoured to have apostasized; denouncing his faith and now living a life of compliant (non-Christian) domesticity.

The first half of the film (it clocks in at 160-minutes) sees Rodrigues and Garupe hiding out in the Japanese mountainside, secreted away by villagers who practice their Christian faith in private lest they be discovered and punished by authorties under the command of The Inquisitor.

The second half of Silence is a battle of wills between Rodrigues and The Inquisitor (Issei Ogata), the latter all forced smiles as he attempts to break the spirit of the young priest. The threat of torture, and witnessing other ingenious cruelties (the Japanese were adept at inflicting physical pain long before World War II), used as a means to induce the priest to apostasize.

But this section of Silence it also about Rodrigues's relationship with his God. Since his arrival in Japan, the priest feels that he has been unable to hear the Lord's voice; left to his own devices about how he should proceed. Is it right to allow others to die for him? Would the simple act of placing his foot on a religious icon -- The Inquisitor's preferred, public method of apostasy -- be viewed as a symbolic yet hollow act if Rodrigues still believes, in his heart of hearts, in the grace of his Christian god?

Meditative and contemplative, Silence is a 180 degree turnabout from Scorsese's previous film, the super-charged, substance-fuelled bacchanalia that was The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). But even those who are not religious, or necessarily disciples of Scorsese (or only his more violent fare), should find something here to praise. This heathen did.

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