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With: Tahmineh Normatova, Nadereh Abdelahyeva, Goibibi Ziadolahyeva
Written by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Directed by: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Running Time: 73
Date: 09/06/1998

The Silence (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Little Sight Music

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The Silence (1998)is being released in tandem with his AMoment of Innocence (1996), but for the sake of clarity, I'llreview them separately.

The Silence refers to the world of Khorshid (Tahmineh Normativa), a blind boy who works as an apprentice in a musical instrument shop. He has perfect pitch, an ear for music, and a penchant for getting lost while following beautiful sounds and pretty voices. He is escorted to and from work by a girl a little older than Khorshid named Nadereh (Nadereh Abdelahyeva). Unfortunately Khorshid and his mother (Goibibi Ziadolahyeva) are about to get thrown out of their apartment for not paying rent.

Makhmalbaf is mostly concerned with the specific world that Khorshid has created for himself. He hears music everywhere he goes and becomes obsessed with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which he equates to his landlord's knock on their door. When he walks by a pot maker's shop, he stops to synchronize the workers' banging on the pots so that they become the famous first four notes (da-da-da-DUM).

The most striking scene in The Silence is an early one in which Khorshid and Nadereh are in a busy town square. Khorshid hears music being played and wanders off to find its source. Nadereh panics for a moment, but then closes her eyes and listens. She walks in the direction of the music and finds Khorshid again.

The use of music and the overall feel of this film are extraordinary. These words fail mightily in describing the extraordinary poetry of this movie but I urge you to experience The Silence for yourselves.

DVD Details: I loved this film the first time I saw it, on video, for the 1999 San Francisco International Film Festival. Then I saw it again a year later, on the big screen in conjunction with A Moment of Innocence, and did not like it quite as well. This second reaction perplexes me as I look at the film once again, in 2005 on New Yorker's new DVD. I can't imagine how this simple, beautiful film could have turned me off. Maybe it plays better on video than on the big screen. Nevertheless, I now remember it as one of my favorite Makhmalbafs. Thus I have re-edited my original review. The DVD comes with a liner notes essay by film critic Armond White and trailers for four other New Yorker releases.

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