The Silence (1963)
Two estranged sisters, Ester and Anna, and Anna's 10-year-old son travel to the Central European country on the verge of war. Ester becomes seriously ill and the three of them move into a hotel in a small town called Timoka.
"The Silence" is about the emotional distance between two sisters. The younger one is still attractive enough to pick up a lover in a strange city. The older one -- even though she is very ill -- would like to make a human connection also but cannot leave the hotel room. Traveling with the sisters is a small boy who escapes into the hotel, meets a troupe of dwarfs. Which sister is this little boy's mother?
While traveling back home by train, Anna, her son Johan and her sister Ester that is very ill have to stop in a foreign country in Timoka City and checking-in a hotel until Ester recovers from a crisis of her illness. Ester is a translator but she does not speak the language, therefore they need to communicate by gestures with the locals. Ester is cult and controller and Anna is still attractive and very promiscuous. They are emotionally separated and without any sibling's feelings; therefore each sister just speaks to hurt the other while Johan wanders in the empty corridors of the hotel.
Two sisters, Esther and Anna, travel by train to a foreign city, where they speak a language they do not understand, in the company of Johan, Anna's son. Arriving at the hotel, Ester is not well while Anna goes in search of a sexual adventure. Between the chaos of the night, the two sisters confront each other and Ester confesses her rejection of heterosexual relationships and announces the proximity of her death. Recognized as one of the most sexually provocative films of his time, El Silencio offers a brilliant and disturbing vision of the desolation that exists in a suffocating spiritual void.
Adult sisters Ester and Anna and Anna's ten year old son Johan are traveling across Europe by train trying to make their way home. Despite the country being on the brink of war, they make an unscheduled stop in Timoka in Central Europe as Ester is too unwell to travel, they ending up staying in a small suite in an otherwise virtually empty hotel. At this stage, Anna is tasked with taking care of Ester despite the two sisters having more than just a strained relationship. The sisters are also different in temperament, Ester, a translator of books, who is more focused on her brain, while Anna, largely uses her physicality (i.e. sex) to satisfy her needs. At the hotel, Anna ditches both Ester and Johan at whatever opportunity she can to satisfy her needs. Meanwhile, Ester continues to work whenever she feels well enough, while relying largely on the hotel steward working on that floor whenever she needs that assistance that Anna would have provided, and when she isn't self-medicating herself with alcohol. This situation between the sisters leaves Johan largely to his own devices, he who isn't told about how sick Ester really is, but who may be able to see the situation from his observer perspective.
- When Bergman started shooting "The Silence," he explained that it was the final installment of his film trilogy, which started with "Through Glass Darkly," followed by "Winter Light." This trilogy corresponds to the start in a new direction taken by Ingmar Bergman: "chamber films," so named for their analogy to chamber music. In "The Silence," God has totally disappeared from the world. We are now faced with an absolute silence, resulting from a complete breakdown of communication between human beings.
First Movement. After vacationing abroad, young Johan (Jorgen Lindstrom), his mother, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), and his aunt Ester (Ingrid Thulin), are aboard a train, returning to their home in Sweden -- but we won't know these characters' names until about the middle of the film. The train whistle has just awakened Johan, who walks to the train compartment window. The atmosphere in the compartment is stiflingly hot. Anna, leaning against the back of the seat, perspiring and obviously uncomfortable, is fanning herself with a book. Ester, by contrast, is sitting upright, apparently unaffected by the heat. They are arriving in Timoka, a town in a country with a totally incomprehensible language. Johan asks Ester what a small sign on the window means, but even though she is an interpreter, she does not know the language. As she answers Johan, she has a paroxysm of coughing which stains her handkerchief with blood. Anna tries to help her, but Ester pushes her away and rushes from the compartment. A while later, Ester is back in her seat and condescends to accept Anna's help. Anna closes the door of the compartment, leaving Johan outside. Left to himself, Johan walks down the corridor, peeking into other compartments, and looking out through the windows. On a parallel track, a train of flatbed wagons passes, carrying tanks: obviously, there is a war or a revolution underway, or about to start.
The train enters the station, brakes squealing and grinding. The next scene shows our three characters in a hotel room. Because of Ester's sickness, Anna and Ester have decided to stop for a time in Timoka, until Ester is better able to travel. The three take over two large rooms which communicate through a large doorway. Johan goes to the window to look at the street below, where feverish activities point toward a possibly imminent disaster. Anna decides to take a bath and asks Johan to come and scrub her back. Johan's obvious delight at being close to his mother is brief, as Anna cuts short this intimate moment and sends him back to the room to take a nap.
Meanwhile, in the other room Ester is in bed, chain-smoking, drinking, and reading a book. As she has emptied her bottle, she rings the hotel floor porter (Hakan Jahnberd). The old man comes in, and Ester, not being able to communicate with him through the different languages she knows, manages through gestures to express her need for more alcohol. The porter returns with a bottle and leaves the room. Ester goes in her sister's room and contemplates Anna and Johan as they sleep. She returns to her own bed, unbuttons her pajamas and proceeds to masturbate. Suddenly, the deafening roar of airplanes fills the room, jolting Johan awake once more. He dresses, puts his cap-pistol in his belt and leaves the room, embarking on a lengthy exploration of the cheerless hotel's hallways. Johan first encounters a workman sitting on the top of a ladder, and shoots at him with the cap-pistol. Next, he hides behind an armchair and shoots at the old porter, who sits in his cubicle. When the old man makes a friendly gesture toward Johan, Johan runs away. Further down the hallway, he meets a dwarf whom he salutes. Coming into a turn of the hallway, Johan finds himself face to face with a reproduction of Ruben's Dejanira Abducted by Nessus. Meanwhile, Ester is in her bedroom on her hands and knees, spying through the doorway on her naked sister as Anna cools herself off with water from the sink.
It should be noted that many of these scenes are in fact happening simultaneously, for example, the scenes of Johan studying the painting and Ester spying on her sister, indicating a parallelism in subject matter .
Johan comes upon the open door of a room occupied by a group of dwarfs, part of a traveling Spanish troop. He goes in, but not before having "shot" three of them. They dress him up with a girl's dress, all the while speaking in Spanish, which although a more accessible language, is still foreign to Johan. The dwarf he had previously encountered in the hallway comes in and scolds his fellow dwarfs, and after taking the girl's dress off Johan, escorts him out. Johan manifests his frustration at being once more excluded by urinating in the hallway.
In parallel with the previous scene, the meaning of Anna's lipstick, in a close-up shot, readying herself to go out, and its implication regarding Anna's state of mind cannot be missed. As she leaves, we see Ester's fury at having once more lost control over her sister. Anna wanders in a street crowded only with men. She enters a café and meets a young waiter (Birger Malmsten). She then goes to a variety theater where the group of dwarfs is performing. She sits in a loge where, next to her, a couple is having sex. She watches for a while, fascinated and at the same time, somewhat repulsed. She leaves the theater and returns to the café, where she communicates through a glance her immediate need to the young waiter.
Johan is still walking the hotel halls. He sees the old porter having lunch in his cubicle. The porter persuades Johan to come and sit on his lap to look at old photographs. One photograph shows a family group with a young boy, probably the porter, standing around a coffin that contains a woman, who may be the porter's mother. At that moment, Anna walks down the hallway, and Johan runs to her and hugs her. Anna goes to her room but, anticipating a quarrel with her sister, stops Johan from following her. Johan, angered at being again rejected, resumes his walk along the hotel corridors. He slips the old man's photograph under a rug in a sign of protest over his latest dismissal.
Anna is followed into her room by Ester who notices Anna's soiled dress, and understands what has happened during Anna's visit to the outside world. At this point, Anna demands that her sister stop her spying, and insists that she leave her alone.
Second Movement. Later in the evening, Ester is in at the window in her own room, watching the strange evening activities below. She is listening to the radio, which is broadcasting one of Bach's Goldberg Variations. The porter, bringing in tea, recognizes the "mooseek," and names the composer, "Johan Sebastian Bach.". During this peaceful moment of understanding, Ester tells Anna that she and Johan should leave this same evening, and she will follow them at a later time, when she feels better. Anna refuses, not out of compassion for Ester, but probably because she has another rendezvous later that evening with the young waiter. Anna is about to leave the room when Ester turns off the uniting music and verbally attacks her. Once more, Anna sends Johan out of the room. Spitefully, Anna recounts her afternoon encounter with the young waiter in great detail to her sister. Ester is at once upset by these revelations, but also seems to enjoy them. Ester tries to dissuade Anna from going to meet her lover again, but to no avail.
Anna meets the young waiter in the hotel hallway and they both enter an adjacent room. Johan listens for a while, his ear pressed against the door, and then wanders off down the corridors, lonely and disoriented. He returns to his room, goes to bed, and reads a little. Then, just as he enters his aunt's room, a prolonged rumbling brings him to the window, where he sees a tank parked in front of the hotel. Ester wakes and asks him to read something to her. Johan instead proposes to put on his Punch and Judy show. He proceeds with a violent puppet show, in which Punch beats Judy while speaking an incomprehensible tongue. Ester asks the meaning of this, and Johan replies that when Punch is afraid, he speaks this kind of funny language. Suddenly, Johan's pent-up emotions surface, and he rushes into his aunt's arms, sobbing. Outside the hotel, in a rumbling, the tank leaves the scene. Johan asks Ester to write few words of the strange local language she would have translated, which Ester promises to do.
Meanwhile next door, after an amorous encounter, Anna and her boyfriend are "talking." That is, Anna is delivering a monologue of her inner thoughts, since they cannot otherwise verbally communicate. She hears Ester at the door sobbing, wanting to come in. Anna, still talking, opens the door and unloads all her repressed resentments on her sister. Ester leaves as the young waiter takes Anna once more.
Third Movement. Some time later, in Ester's room, as Anna is leaving the room to go for breakfast with Johan, she tells her bed-ridden sister that she and Johan are leaving in the afternoon. An hour passes and Ester is lying in her bed. She is furious because Anna and Johan have not yet returned. She launches into an angry monologue that provokes a terrible spasm. The old porter does his best to help Ester in her distress. He realizes that she is dying, but he cannot communicate any words of comfort. The spasm subsides and Ester pulls a sheet over her face. She is lying under the sheets when Johan and Anna return. Johan is briefly afraid that Ester is dead, but she reassures him, and hands him the letter she wrote for him.
In the next and final scene, Anna and Johan are together in a train compartment, on their way home to Sweden. Johan reads Ester's letter, titled "To Johan: Words in a Foreign Language." The film ends as it started, with an extreme close-up of Johan at the compartment window, muttering the few words written by his aunt.