Silent Waters Review
Silent Waters takes place in turbulent times. Set in Pakistan during the coming to power of General Zia in 1979, it occupies itself with the attendant religious fervour and the shift towards Muslim fundamentalism that came in its wake. Furthermore, the spectre of 1947 and Partition extends over the picture, its events – specifically the treatment of women at this time – being key to both the narrative and the experiences of its characters.
Put simply, it’s strong stuff, yet Silent Waters isn’t a film which seems like hard work. Whilst its details may be tied to specific historical periods the actual storytelling is universal and revolves around what are effectively standard narrative norms. It’s the tale of a mother and her son and the cracks which soon appear in their once idyllic relationship once his attitudes shift in the fervour of the times and the events of her own past are brought unsparingly into the present. Similarly Silent Waters is also the tale of the downfall of a village as a result of the impending fundamentalism: the film starts out in what is almost a communal paradise, one which revels in song and colour, yet soon descends into severed ties and acts of violence.
Of the two it’s the family drama which is more important and where writer-director Sabiha Sumar draws the film’s major strengths. For all the grandness of its themes Sumar is resolute in keeping thing simple and concentrating on the smaller incidents. The result is a focus on the central relationship first and everything else second. Thus we believe that these two characters are mother and son, that their connection is genuine and their emotions likewise. And as such the bigger ideas are woven in almost by osmosis; the main achievement is to have us convinced and with this place everything else works almost automatically. Sumar never has to bog us down in historical exposition or the like simply because she has hooked us more directly. Indeed, it’s a somewhat surprising situation given that our director’s experience lies exclusively in the documentary format. (In fact, Silent Waters was initially conceived as such.) And yet the performances are so strong and so ultimately right that it feels as though Sumar has been working in fiction all her life. Certainly, there’s a documentary feel to the manner in which she has recreated the late seventies courtesy of the clothes, the facial hair, the TV ads and the rest, but then this isn’t the work of a filmmaker opting for a sudden change in tact, merely one demonstrating terrific promise.
That said, Sumar’s overall cinematic approach does feel more akin to a televisual style at times. Her mise-en-scène can be a little flat on occasion, she has a tendency to adopt long fade outs at the end of each act as though commercials were due to appear, and is generally unadventurous when it comes to utilising the camera. However, whilst this may not make for “immediate” cinema, it does make sense in the wider scheme of things. Effectively, this sober approach is solid enough to serve the drama without getting in the way. Moreover, it perhaps demonstrates some of the intelligence of Sumar’s approach: she’s not trying to win us over because ultimately the storytelling does that well enough on its own, more than enough in fact to result in an often splendid piece of work.
Released in the UK as a Region 2 disc by the BFI, this particular DVD incarnation is somewhat disappointing. In terms of the presentation there is little to fault. The picture is sharp and clean, retains the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Meanwhile the soundtrack, here present in DD2.0 form, handles both music and dialogue without fuss and comes with attendant optional English subtitles. Overall it’s the kind of presentation you’d expect from a film made as recently as 2003; everything looks and sounds no doubt as Sumar would hope, any kind of flaw or damage being minimal and never once causing a distraction. The disappointment lies in the lack of special features content beyond a booklet comprising various articles, interviews and filmography. Certainly, none of these elements can be faulted as such, yet there’s always the feeling that the disc itself should offer something a little more, be it a commentary from Sumar, a featurette to put the film in context or to explain its international success, or a handful of the director’s documentary films.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:45:21