Friday, November 27, 2015

Un silencio de tumba (1972)

I probably like Un silencio de tumba more than I should.  I watch a lot (read a shitload) of low-budget movies but rarely as I am impressed with Jess Franco.  During my second viewing of Silencio, I had an epiphany, which should seem obvious after viewing a hundred plus Franco flicks, that the man had such a creative talent that Franco could take so little materially and make provocative and entertaining cinema.  Silencio is a murder mystery.
On a remote island, a film crew takes a long weekend vacation.  Upon the island is a villa, owned by famous actress, Annette (Glenda Allen), and is occupied by her sister, Valerie (Montserrat Prous), her child, Christian, and few servants, among whom is Laura (Kali Hansa).  Annette and her guests, which include Juan (Alberto Dalbes), a detective and friend and Jerome (Luis Induni), her producer, among others, arrive via a chartered boat (the only way to reach the island).  Valerie stoically greets her guests, and they are not welcome:  Valerie harbors a deep resentment towards her sister and her lackadaisical attitude towards rearing her child.  Valerie believes that Annette lives a selfish life and will be damned if her sister takes her child away from Valerie.  During the first evening, after a revelry has ended, the child is kidnapped and a large ransom is demanded.  When the money is acquired and placed at the agreed-upon location, the child is still not returned.  Paranoia turns the guests against each other whom all begin to die in short order.
Two performances stand out in Un silencio de tumba:  Montserrat Prous and Alberto Dalbes.  Even after seeing her in Los ojos siniestros del doctor Orloff (1973) and Le journal intime d’une nymphomane (Sinner) (1973), I have failed to realize how truly beautiful and talented an actress Prous is.  There is an easy sexiness about her, as she is strumming a guitar upon the veranda (the music by Franco and Fernando García Morcillo is a favorite).  There is also a vulnerability to her character despite her hatred towards her sister and her guests and her obsession to keep the child at any cost.  This vulnerability engenders quite a bit of sympathy with her character.  Likewise, if Prous is the sail of Un silencio de tumba, the Dalbes is the anchor.  A recognizable face from Spanish genre cinema, I often fail to recognize his talent, often because he is consistently so good that I have grown accustomed to him.  While the rest of the ensemble of Silencio is fueled by emotion, it is Dalbes’s Juan who keeps a level head and drives the story.  The story of Silencio is familiar and not of particular mention.  Franco, wisely, tells his story through Prous and Dalbes:  as Valerie loses her grip on reality because of her obsession, is Juan trying to keep her leveled or is he manipulating her, driving her further into paranoia for his own gain?  Never was I, even during repeated viewings of Silencio, looking for clues in the story or trying to determine who was a suspect. Rather I was fixated upon Prous and Dalbes and more interested in how their characters were evolving.  Perhaps the irony of Un silencio de tumba and why it occupies a second-tier among Franco fans is that while he should have been crafting a murder mystery, Franco, either intentionally or negligently, crafted a fine dual-character study.
As Franco tells Un silencio de tumba through the eyes of Prous and Dalbes, his visual style focuses upon close-ups of his actors.  Prous’s Valerie is the lone character to be afforded monologues, and despite their antiquated feel, they work towards heightening her obsession.  Silencio is not a poor murder mystery.  Franco actually handles its atmosphere remarkably well.  Past the midpoint of the film, the power goes out in the villa, and the few remaining characters reach the breaking point.  In shadowy corridors and rooms, conversations, once mundane in the daytime, take on a sinister edge in this darkness.  Prous and Dalbes alternate between possible allies to would-be lovers to combatants by the end of the film.  The ending of the film has a twist, but whatever—the rest of the film leading up to it more than satisfies.  Un silencio de tumba deserves more praise than its title will allow.

1 comment:

Alex B. said...

I'd say it's generally pretty hard not to like any JEss films from the period when he was so busy and creatively charged.