Review: Silent Land –scathing look at race, class, otherness, through the lens of tourists behaving badly in Polish film, directed by Aga Woszczynska

Silent Land, a film of rupture and discord, directed by Polish director Aga Woszczynska, is screening online (free to watch online) at the European Film Festival South Africa- October 13 to 23, 2022.  It is a scathing look at race, class, otherness, through the lens of tourists behaving badly.

The film is screening in cinemas, on Thursday October 20, at The Labia, Cape Town (R70) and at Ster Kinekor The Zone, in Johannesburg (R80). Info here: Booking:

Silent Land, tracks what happens when a well-heeled Polish couple, Anna and Adam (Agnieszka Zulewska and Dobromir Dymecki) hire a villa, on an island in Italy. The pool villa has no water. When the owner offers a discount, they insist that the owner fixes the pool and gets it sorted. The holiday goes pear shaped and the repercussions leave them reeling in guilt, fear and the knowledge of their complicity – even if what happens is apparently not their fault. They are a perfect couple – tall, white, Nordic/Aryan- garbed in a palette of neutral colours – bland and featureless. Their bodies are perfect. We see Adam shaving the hair on his chest. There is a lot of nudity and sex, framed against the washed-out blue setting of the villa, which although opulent, appears faded. It has lost its allure. The disappointment of the couple becomes clear. This is not the holiday that they envisaged.

They don’t speak the language around them (Italian). The disconnect between language and culture is foregrounded when things go very wrong. They don’t understand and those around them don’t understand them – verbally and on other levels. They are interlopers in a landscape, with no empathy for the land and its inhabitants. The villa owner is also disconnected to those in his service – buffered by his wealth and standing in the community. The film delves deep into prejudice and xenophobia.  

The absurd comedic moments in the early sequences of the film provide much needed release. I loved the interrogation scene with translations from Italian into English (the couple speak English but no Italian) and how the detective implores his underling to tell the couple to stop being  “tight assed” but this is lost in translation. The film becomes rather heavy-handed, caught up in the narcissism of the couple and their determination to have their holiday. I would have like more mirth and for the absurdism in the early scenes to be carried through. Still, it is an interesting film and I think an important cautionary tale: If you are privileged to go on holiday, please be tuned into the landscape, the land that you are visiting; those who are serving you; those who are at your disposal and proceed with care and respect.

✳ Featured image supplied by European Film Festival (SA).