Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A QUESTION OF SILENCE (1982) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)


Label: Cult Epics
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono /DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Director: Marleen Gorris
Cast: Cox Habbema, Nelly Frijda, 
Edda Barends, Henriette Tol

In the Dutch feminist film A Question of Silence (1982), directed by Marleen Gorris (Antonio’s Line), three women, complete strangers unto one another enter a clothing store, each on their own independent excursion. When one of the women is caught by the male shopkeeper the other two women, seemingly with no premeditated thought, surround and kill a male shopkeeper, bludgeoning him to death with foot, hand and random object from inside the shop, while a group of other women shoppers look on, almost trance like. When the act of finished they depart the store, separately, each embarking on a celebratory bit of ritual. The next day the women are rounded up by the authorities for the crime with very little fanfare, seeming quite content to be apprehended, as if it was expected.

Incarcerated prior to their trial the court assigns female psychiatrist Janine (Cox Habbema) to the case, tasked with finding out the the why of it all, we already know the who, and to ascertain if they are clinically of sound mine to stand trial. The three women are a stay at home mother of three, Christine M. (Edda Barends), a talkative and happily divorced older waitress, Ann Jongman (Nelly Frijda), and a vibrant twentysomething executive secretary, Andrea Brouwer (Henriette Tol). Janine sets about interviewing the three women individually, as well as their significant others and co-workers to get to the bottom of why they committed such a violent and seemingly unprovoked crime. As the interviews unfold the tightly knit story offers flashbacks into the lives of the three women, of their unhappy experiences with men in general, as well as offering insight into the killing of the shopkeeper. The murder itself is actually unseen, we see the women's actions as they as they direct it towards the man on the floor, but the carnage is not seen at all. More descriptive is the coroner's assessment of the injuries inflicted on the corpse, which paints quite an image of mutilated genitals and a desecrated face and chest. The interviews are interesting in the women's different takes and approaches to being interviewed, though they never do talk about the why of it all, it's more of an open-ended why not sort of thing. Christine M. chooses to be mute, her lack of a verbal response speaking directly to her belief that men don't listen to what you have to say so why bother? Waitress Ann Jongman talks quite a bit, even off-color joking about that she'd be willing to kill for some chocolates, while the Henriette Tol speaks about how she know more than her bosses but has never been able to break through the male-dominated ranks. As for Janine, the interviews are having an effect on her as well, questioning her own marriage to a lawyer who second guesses her professional assessment of the women and why they've done what they've done, as it might have an adverse effect on his professional career. The film itself culminates in a bit of ambiguity during the court room trial with the three defendants erupting into caucauphounous laughter which spreads throughout the women gathered in the courtroom, including Janine herself, who walks out of the courtroom seemingly infused with a more vibrant sense of self and sharper feminist edge. 

It's an interesting whydunit, we know who did it, there's no question, but why would three women, strangers unto each other, team-up to kill a man who is just doing his job? The answer is both shocking and pedestrian in it's simplicity, and it's a testament to the film that it still has power to ruffle the feathers. It really all comes down to women just being tired of dealing with the patriarchy and their suffering male micro-aggressions. It's both that simple and that complicated. 

While I think the film is quite procative I think it's also going to be divisive, even after forty-plus years, it's still shocking,  it's extreme feminist POV, by design, and it will certainly upset the dinosaur-thinking patriarchy who even to this day are desperate to hold onto power and keep women under their thumb. This is simply a film that was shocking in it's debut and sadly is still relevant today, it has a power and potency to it, even without visceral violence, the ideas are powerful, even if exaggerated, and no matter how you feel about it's content or ideology I think it's a film that will get you talking. 

If you're a fan of the film you will be pleased to know that Cult Epics will be following up this release with Marleen Gorris' Broken Mirrors (due August 2023) and The Last Island (due October 2023), looking to give Gorris the same excellent multi-release treatment afforded to other Dutch filmmakers like Pim de la Parra and Nouchka van Brakel - so keep your eyes peeled, there are more Dutch treats on the way soon!

Audio/Video: A Question of Silence gets a region-free Blu-ray from Cult Epics, presented here in 1080p HD widescreen (1.66:1), sourced from a 2K scan and restoration from an unspecifies source. The source itself looks solid with only some intermittent flaws, the film has course looking grain with fuzzy detail, it looks like it was shot on 16mm with less than stellar depth and clarity, but colors and textures are quite pleasing throughout. CORRECTION: Since posting this review I have been informed by Cult Epics that this new scan is sourced from a 40 year-old 35mm theatrical print of the film, the best available surviving elements for the movie, hence the rough-hewn appearance. Audio comes by way of Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono or Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles, both tracks are well-balanced, no serious issues aside from some minor source related wear.

Extras start-off with an Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Patricia Pisters, plus we get a 11-min archival Interview with director Marleen Gorris (Cinevisie, 1982), as well as an archival 16-min Interview with actress Cox Habbema (Cinevisie, 1982). Extras are buttoned-up with a brief Polygoon Journal NewsreelPromotional Gallery, and 18-min of Trailers for the film and other Cult Epics releases. 
The single-disc release arrives in a clear Viva Elite keepcase with a 2-sided non-reversible sleeve of artwork, the reverse side featuring a scene from the film.

Special Features:
- 2K HD Transfer and Restoration
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Patricia Pisters
- Interview with director Marleen Gorris (Cinevisie, 1982)(11:15)
- Interview with actress Cox Habbema (Cinevisie, 1982) (16:22)
- Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1982) (0:46)
- Promotional Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3:02)
- Cult Epics Trailers: AmnesiaA (1:43), All About Eva (2:52), The Cool Lakes of Death (3:33), The Debut (2:52), Frank & Eva (2:42), Blue Movie (1:52)
- Double-sided Sleeve of Artwork (Blu-ray only)

Screenshots from the Cult Epics Blu-ray: