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Land of Silence and Darkness (1971)

Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit (original title)
Not Rated | | Documentary | 22 October 2002 (Hong Kong)
Through examining Fini Straubinger, an old woman who has been deaf and blind since adolescence, and her work on behalf of other deaf and blind people, this film shows how the deaf and blind... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Fini Straubinger ...
Herself
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
M. Baaske
Elsa Fehrer ...
Herself
Heinrich Fleischmann
Rolf Illig ...
Narrator (voice)
Vladimir Kokol
Resi Mittermeier ...
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Through examining Fini Straubinger, an old woman who has been deaf and blind since adolescence, and her work on behalf of other deaf and blind people, this film shows how the deaf and blind struggle to understand and accept a world from which they are almost wholly isolated. Written by Erik Gregersen <erik@astro.as.utexas.edu>

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22 October 2002 (Hong Kong)  »

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Land of Silence and Darkness  »

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Featured in I Am My Films - A Portrait of Werner Herzog (1978) See more »

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'If there were another World War, I wouldn't even notice it.'
27 February 2015 | by (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK) – See all my reviews

'If there were another World War, I wouldn't even notice it.'

The above quote closes the documentary Land of Silence and Darkness and in many ways sums it up perfectly. Film-maker Werner Herzog has over the years made many films – fiction and fact alike – that focus on outsiders on the extreme fringes of society. With this film, I think it could be argued that his subjects are the most remote and in some ways unknowable of all. The people in this film are all deaf-blind. The loss of these two most key senses puts them in a strange mysterious world where they are cut off from our reality. The principal character is a late middle-aged woman called Fini Straubinger who suffered a fall when she was nine, that went unreported and untreated. As a consequence of this, she gradually lost her sight and hearing so that by her teens she was deaf and blind. She subsequently spent thirty years in bed but later re-emerged and went on to focus on helping others in a similar situation. This involved teaching them to communicate and organising field visits.

Like is mostly the way with documentaries focusing on people with severe disabilities, at first the participants seem quite alien to us but as we observe them for a time they emerge as identifiably human. Fini is in a more unique position than her more famous counterpart Helen Keller, in that she lost her senses at an age old enough to remember more about them and the world around her. This has allowed her to learn to communicate via an extraordinary touch-based system. It still seems incredible for us to imagine what it must be like to be in a void without sound or vision only to intermittently feel this physical communication and moreover, to be able to actually function under these circumstances. Fini is frankly an extraordinary person and her achievements are quite astonishing. The documentary introduces us to several other deaf-blind who are in even more difficult and frankly heart-breaking situations. One middle-aged woman lives in an asylum after the only person who communicated with her, her mother, died. We also encounter some who have borne this affliction from birth. This makes it especially difficult teaching them anything, some concepts becoming completely impossible. One of the most memorable of these scenes involves a 22 year old man who has never been taught how to walk, chew or communicate. We first see him sitting on the floor buzzing strangely while violently throwing a ball about. He seems to all intents and purposes like an infant. Incredibly, once Fini interacts with him she immediately makes a communication breakthrough. There are many unbelievable scenes such as this sprinkled through this documentary and it is a film that makes you pause and not only remember how lucky you are but also to ponder what being human is actually all about.


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