Long before his hit Netflix series Dark, Baran Bo Odar wrote and directed a German film called The Silence, now on the Topic channel, about a present-day crime that forces several characters to reckon with their past. 13-year-old Sinikka (Lena Klenke) goes missing on her way home from a carnival, and her bike is found in the exact spot where, 23-years earlier, on the same date, 11-year-old Pia Lange was killed. Pia’s case was never solved, much to the dismay of her mother Elena (Katrin Sass) and recently retired lead detective Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaußer). As detectives David Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg) and Jana Gläser (Jule Böwe) work Sinikka’s case, Krischan lobs passionate but sometimes counterproductive assistance from the side. For Timo Friedrich (Wotan Wilke Möhring), who witnessed the first murder, Sinikka’s disappearance triggers a breakdown and compels him to contact Pia’s killer. What makes The Silence interesting is that, although the plot revolves around the present-day crime, the character development is focused on those who were involved in the first case, from the witness, to the mother of the victim, to the detective. It’s a unique point of view.
The film is adapted from the book Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, available in English here (affiliate link)
The Silence opens in 1986, on two men in a darkened room watching a reel to reel film of a young girl. We don’t see many details, but it’s obvious that it’s exploitative. The men are Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen), a caretaker at an apartment complex, and college student Timo Friedrich, who looks extremely uncomfortable. Later, the men are driving in the car when they see a young girl on a bike turn off the road onto a path in a cornfield. Peer reverses and follows her, wasting no time raping and killing her. Timo watches, horrified, from the car, but does nothing to stop what’s going on. Later, we see Timo board a bus and disappear. Focusing on the perpetrators is an off-putting way to start a story, and while I don’t entirely agree on the directing choice, seeing the action, especially of Timo’s paralysis, is necessary for the film.
Click here for more recommendations of German Crime Drama
David Jahn, the lead detective on the Sinikka case, recently returned from a 5-month absence to care for his dying wife. He is clearly unstable, barely able to function, blurting to his superior, “I’m fit for duty!” out of the blue. But he is intuitive and dedicated. Jana, his partner, believes in Jahn, and is a stabilizing force. Mittich, feeling guilty that he didn’t solve Pia’s case, reconnects with Elena Lange, Pia’s mom, who never quite moved on, and whom the press is hounding. While his files and memories are a boon to Sinikka’s case, his reckless style, such as saying within earshot of Sinikka’s parents, “She’s dead, not missing! We know that even if we don’t have the body!” is unhelpful. Meanwhile, we meet present-day Timo. He’s a successful architect in another town with a wife, son and daughter. He seems like he has a normal, happy life until he sees the news of Sinikka’s disappearance, which completely unravels him and sends him on a journey into his past. With a lame excuse to his family, Timo, who changed his last name when he got married, returns to the crime scene and ultimately to confront Peer. Will he be able to do, this time, what he should have done before?
Click here to see what other foreign crime dramas we like on Netflix.
Our Take on The Silence
If you can get through the opening, The Silence is an engrossing film. Although it’s not the masterpiece that Dark is, you can see the beginning of Odar’s style-playing with time, looking at how the past comes back to haunt you, seeing the same events from different points of view. The story is clever, with an unsettling ending. And the excellent ensemble cast have gone on from to become famous-you will recognize many of them. My only beef is the David Jahn character. For someone who is unhinged enough to punch a grieving father in the face, he sure is an insightful detective. It’s hard to see how his mental instability serves the story. But other than that, and some bad wigs, I liked The Silence. If you can stomach a non-graphic film about pedophilia, The Silence offers an unexpected take on subject.
Looking for more of the best in foreign TV? Don’t miss our other great reviews HERE!