Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Question of Silence (Marleen Gorris, 1982)


Marleen Gorris’ A Question of Silence remains a classic of political feminist cinema, endlessly stimulating and debatable for all its inevitably dated trappings: three women, strangers to each other and with little in common, spontaneously join together in brutally killing the male owner of a clothing store; another woman, a psychiatrist, is assigned to prepare a report for the court, and is unable to provide the expected conclusion, that the women were insane (at least by some measure). This isn’t a vigilante movie based in a whipped-up sense of righteous revenge (the women aren’t violently abused by their partners for instance); the injustices and imbalances underlying their actions are more subtle and systemic, rooted in the basic structures and assumptions of work and family, sometimes seeming to verge on the supernatural, particularly in the depiction of four other women who witness the murder, and thereafter seem to be joined in some silent form of communion (the sense of other-worldly possession bolstered by the highly of-the-moment synthesizer score). Such devices may seem a bit overly emphatic at times, but they’re a vital element of the prevailing sense of otherness, of a text which can’t be contained by prevailing patriarchal norms and expectations. It follows that the question of motive is never resolved (and indeed is rendered almost comically inadequate, an attempt to impose an easy narrative on an action which inherently resists that); a suggestion by the prosecutor that the crime should be assessed no differently from, say, a murder of a female shop assistant by three men strikes the women as so clueless that only laughter can follow, rendering the proceedings morally void, if not legally so. Inevitably, Gorris doesn’t arrive at a tidy conclusion, her film’s ending suggesting further new alliances ahead, an ongoing need for breakage and disruption.

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