A Silent Sonata on warfare: it’s show business

Can one make a movie, not about a specific war – but to capture its essence? Slovenian director, Janez Burger, sets out to do just that in his allegorical film, Silent Sonata. As part of our Premium Films collection, this film will be online from 30 September.

The film gets by without any dialogue at all, instead offering a beautiful soundscape and accompanying music (Vesna Award for Best Sound and Best Music) to the imagery of often-poetic scenes.

It begins by introducing the characters of a circus, which appears later. However, these colourful and romantic still lifes are harshly interrupted by the opening titles: set against a black screen, frightened and fast breathing is heard as bombs explode. Then, in broad daylight, a father (Leon Lučev) examines the scene of his house, marked by the traces of war: bullet holes, until he finds what he seemed to be looking for: the corpse of his wife. An atmosphere of fear and sorrow is created, for which no words are needed, and expectations are set when, one evening, the sound of approaching heavy vehicles is heard– but instead of an army, the travelling circus from the opening arrives.  With poetic visuals, the film follows the family and the showmen of Circus Fantasticus as they develop a bond.

The director’s notion of warfare and circus each as a form of show business is particularly explicit in one of the most stunning scenes in the movie: a tank arrives at the house and as the father draws his gun, two of the showmen, the muscle man (Viatcheslav Volkov) and the fire blower (David Boelee), build themselves up in front of the tank and perform tricks such as flic-flaks and fire-breathing. In another darkly humorous scene, the same tank performs gimmicks of disappearing completely in fog and revolving in 360s – to only end up being shot by a fighter jet.

The driving force of Silent Sonata is the concept of living in an environment branded by war: “War changes its form, but that does not mean that it is not an integral part of human nature and as such a part of the environment in which we live,” explains Burger. “Silent Sonata is a film which tackles the question of how to survive in such an environment.” The decision to make this complete, feature-length film without dialogue is crucial to the theme of warfare, as, according to the director, “[t]he words in war are lies, so I don’t need them.” Silent Sonata lacks nothing – not even words.

In his allegory on warfare, Burger decides not to paint everything in black (the performance of Circus Fantasticus is quite the opposite), and he closes his movie with an exceptional shot from above as the Circus Fantasticus sets out to continue its journey…hopefully leading to a more peaceful place.

Silent Sonata was Slovenia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards 2012, and it was nominated for the European Film Academy Awards in 2011. It is now available on Walk This Way in Denmark, Norway, France and Czech Republic.

05 October 2015, by Cineuropa