Silence of Love (Tous les soleils)
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 17 February 2013
European cinema seems to understand that often it’s stories about the simple things in life that can be the most affecting. As successful as they are with knockabout comedies and crime thrillers, the French in particular have a knack for quiet, pared-down drama, often portraying the lives of ordinary people in situations we can relate to but in a manner which nonetheless leaves us deeply moved.
Alessandro teaches baroque music at the university in Strasburg, and lives an ascetic bachelor lifestyle, flatting with his eccentric brother and teenage daughter. His friends and colleagues encourage him to get out and meet someone new, but Alessandro is preoccupied by memories of his dead wife and the travails of raising a child he fails to understand.
Writer-director Philippe Claudel debuted with the searing I’ve Loved You So Long starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman released into suburban life after fifteen years in prison. This film is less heavy but the performances just as compelling, notably Italian actor Stefano Accorsi, academically clad in spectacles and corduroy jacket, and the brother Luigi (Neri Marcorè) – an Italian “in exile” and seeking refugee status, who refuses to speak his native tongue or leave the apartment for as long as the despised Berlusconi is in power. Alessandro loses his temper in Italian but his brother resolutely shouts back in French, exhibiting the film’s perfect balance of heartfelt and humorous moments.
What works is the naturally-portrayed truth of each of the characters. There are children grieving parents, women lamenting failed marriages, a man with a string of unsuitable girlfriends – and at the heart of it, Alessandro’s beleaguered but well-meaning father. To top it off, he belongs to a baroque music group whose scenes give the film an almost spiritual sheen.
The rather drab title Silence of Love (not a direct translation of the French Tous les Soleils but taken from a poem read by the lead character) doesn’t do justice to the beauty of its style, its grace and the feeling you get from watching ordinary people interact in meaningful ways.