Languorous dramatic slow-burner Silent Land is a unnerving piece that takes on the ill-fated holiday narrative. The debut feature from Polish writer-director Agnieszka Woszczynska sees her collaborate with co-writer Piotr Litwin on this tale that cautiously prompts questions about morality, guilty and denial through the lens of a cold bourgeois couple.
Young middle-class couple Anna (Agnieszka Zulewska) and Adam (Dobromir Dymecki) vacation on an Italian island, unwinding in a remote villa. Finding that their swimming pool is faulty, the couple request for it to be repaired – despite a shortage of water on the island – however a tragedy involving the pool repair man sends their quiet vacation into disarray. As more is revealed about the events surrounding the incident, the couple find themselves unravelling and their relationship suffering.
Woszczynska’s directorial style is quietly observant filled with shots of inanimate objects, the scenery surrounding the villa, and the relaxed movements of the holidaymaking couple. Their time is spent relaxing in the sun, loitering around the villa and making love. There is no apparent issue between the couple, with cinematographer Bartosz Swiniarski quietly capturing the rustic sun-baked locations they unwind within. Yet the dynamic shifts with the arrival of the pool maintenance man Rahim (Ibrahim Keshk) – the handsome olive-skinned repair man captures the attention of the quiet Polish couple, instigating discreet shift in their behaviour. Anna finds herself staring at him with intrigue, whilst slightly pushed off-kilter by his presence – whilst her husband looks with a similar coldness.
Woszczynska and Litwin’s narrative presents a simple tragic moment, which escalates the tense emotional dynamics of the film. As Adam and Anna interact with the local police force dealing with the tragedy, their failure to fit in with the culture and identity of the island stands out. The bourgeois couple’s depiction of events starts to showcase some slight discrepancies to the police force reports suggesting more involvement than initially thought. Woszczynska launches a character-driven investigation into bourgeois complacency and a lack of compassion as Adam and Anna attempt to move on with their vacation – dancing, drinking and building surface level relationships with other holidaymakers. Their response to the tragedy grows more callous, one of their reasons to justify their lack of intervention noting he wasn’t a documented national.
The rustic charm of the Italian coastal setting becomes a juxtaposing canvas for growing tension between Anna and Adam who navigate the tragedy in increasingly divergent paths. Adam becomes plagued by surreal visions of Rahim and haunted by the events, whilst Anna buries her head in the sand and continues as normal. This quiet tension and icy divide between the couple is captured in their failure to communicate, their lack of a shared bond (sex scenes always see Anna facing away from Adam) and their general emotional indifference, all hallmarks of the cold hollowness of their relationship.
Repeated sounds of clattering thunder capture a sense of the couple’s brooding relationship troubles, whilst Swiniarski’s cinematography explores a natural yet unsettling world in Adam’s dreams – submerging beneath water continually representing suppressed troubles and deception.
The simmering slow-burning Silent Land gradually unwinds its apparently clean-cut narrative and characters, delving into a darker underbelly of bourgeois complacency and shallowness.