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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
a very sad but rewarding experience about those who can feel but can't see or hear
Land of Silence and Darkness was Werner Herzog's first documentary. He still had a little bit of ways to go in terms of his style in a straightforward mode; the same year he made an experimental abstract documentary called Fata Morgana that showed him already a master of "directing landscapes" and getting a mood and setting that was unique. With LOS&D it's a little different- it's a little like the German equivalent of one of those touching documentaries that are on HBO every now and then. He's mostly there not to make any grand visual statements or ubiquitous metaphors, but to capture this insulated world where people survive against all obstacles. It's in the Herzog vein of thought and execution, of showing painfully human beings who've been unfortunately by no fault of their own into a fringe group where the act of communication has to be an obstacle itself, that the film is most powerful. Fini Straubinger is one of those gentle, courageous souls that deserves to be shown more in film, and Herzog has her pegged as a good subject- someone who communicates to those who have none (dead-blind boys from birth who barely know how to swallow let alone learn the alphabet or 'good' or 'bad') all through hand-pointing.
While Herzog lays on the orchestral strings over scenes that could be silent themselves, the people speak volumes about how the spirit of humanity and the goodness of human beings can live on in the right circumstances. There's a subtext that Herzog reaches at well of the neglect the people have been served, of some people like the woman who used to use braille but forgot and are put wrongfully in sanitariums, when they could be in the right care functional up to a point in society. So there is that part that is a running theme in most of Herzog's work that's striking, the society at large with the stragglers, those that are just trying to keep up. And out of this he makes at least a few moments, without much interference, into little moments of documentary poetry, like the boy who is ambivalent but finally does go around in the pool and feels ecstatic about being under a shower. Or the simple composition of the young man who can barely eat a banana, but merely the slightest bit of work from Fini gets him reacting.
Wedging on the line between unsentimental and sentimental is a hard thing to do with a group like this, and on a first feature-length documentary Herzog tries and for the most part makes it a brave turn on a subject neglected and bright and moving. It makes sense he would say that this is the one film he's made in decades that he wants to be available most; ironically it is overshadowed by the more astounding (if more crowd-pleasing) work with Grizzly Man and Little Dieter. Even if it isn't a great film, it is a must-see, which is rare in documentary film.
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