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The Silence

     A mini-miracle is happening, and wise men and women should pay homage: Bresson reincarnated, sort of, with Mohsen Makhmahlbaf's magical, wonderful The Silence.

     The Iranian Makhmalbaf (Gabbeh, Moment of Silence) is, in most obvious ways, the very antithesis of Bresson. A once-zealous soldier of Mohammed (he served a jail sentence for attacking, in Khomeini's name, a policeman of the Shah), Makhmalbaf makes films as vivid expressions of his amazing conversion: away from Allah (though he could never say this) to an inspired secular humanism. So how to fathom that The Silence is the most Bressonian film by a major filmmaker in memory?

     Is it a coincidence that Makhmalbaf opts for a style of shooting so close to Bressonian minimalism? The characters in intense close-ups against blank backgrounds. The world sliced up into more close-ups, incredibly framed and abstracted, and stitched together through startling editing juxtapositions.

     Let's move to the performances. Bresson revolutionized cinema by (a)casting only non-professionals in his movies, and (b far more radical, restricting his actors to those who managed not to act when before the camera. The more passive, expressionless, "real," the better. Bresson would have endorsed Makhmalbaf's amateur ensemble in the Tajikistan-shot The Silence, who, without artifice or affectation, embody something close to (though not exactly: they are following a script) their real selves.

     The protagonist is Khorshid, a 10-year-old blind boy, who, my leap of faith, is probably quite similar to the child who plays him, a 10-year-old lad named Khorshid Normativa. The same with his charming, bow-mouthed, young female friend, Nadereh, played by Nadereh Abdelahyeva.

     As for the world of The Silence: it's hardly as cold and mean-spirited as that of Bresson, and yet young Khorshid is, as a Bresson character, a total innocent trapped on all sides. The landlord is begging for the rent, and about to throw Khorshid and his mother onto the streets. Khorshid is about to be fired from work, the last chance for he and his mother to get some money. What to do? What to do?

     Khorshid's temporary solution is a spiritual one, and a delirious convergence with Bresson: bursts of classical music! The four ominous knocks on the door of his greedy landlord are transformed by the music-crazy Khorshid into the world-famous opening chords of the Fifth Symphony. While the cold cruel real world closes in on him, Khorshid sails away inside his head into the heavenly realm of Ludwig Beethoven!

(December, 1999)

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