52FILMSBYWOMEN / Reviews

A Question of Silence – review

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A Question of Silence (1982, dir. Marleen Gorris)

#52FILMSBYWOMEN is a campaign launched by Women In Film in an attempt to raise awareness of female filmmakers. Their initiative asks cinephiles to watch a female-directed film once a week for an entire year, and in this series I will document the films I watched as a part of this pledge.

When a dowdy housewife’s caught stealing from a boutique clothes store, two strangers come to her aid in an act of female solidarity – they surround the snotty male shopkeeper, clench their fists and proceed to beat the unfortunate manager to death. Unsurprisingly met with controversy upon release, A Question of Silence is a courtroom drama, an unabashed feminist declaration and one big, bold, unapologetic middle finger to the patriarchy.

The movie opens soon after the fateful incident as the three felons are taken into custody to await trial. Among them are Christine M. (Edda Barends), a mother and the initiator, Annie (Nelly Frijda), a chatterbox waitress, and Andrea (Henriëtte TolHenriëtte Tol), an erudite secretary. The authoritative men investigating the case quickly conclude the women to be mad, as they see no logical reason for them to commit such a hideous act other than lunacy. But when Janine (Cox Habbema), a professional criminal psychologist (and, of course, a woman), is assigned to analyse the trio’s mental psyche, she realises this was not an act of insanity but a grave act of female retribution.

Films examining the gender divide can approach the subject with timidity in fear of isolating audiences or causing offence, but Dutch writer-director Marleen Gorris shows little signs of holding back in this defiant critique of male supremacy. Although it’s a man, a perfectly innocent man, who’s brutally murdered, it’s his killers, the women, who are essentially portrayed as the victims.

This ideology may seem militant, morally dubious, even possibly man-hating, but provocation was clearly the filmmaker’s intention. When Janine interviews the individual suspects, they refuse to disclose their motive or justify their actions, but various flashbacks reveal they’ve all been somewhat oppressed by men throughout their lives. These are not simply abuse victims seeking revenge, however – it would diminish some of the impact if that were the case – they’re ordinary women who’ve just been blighted by society.

It’s difficult to not imagine how a modern audience would react if it were released today, especially considering the hoopla over something as innocuous as the Ghostbusters reboot. From a visual standpoint, the picture is remarkably less polished than Antonia’s Line (Gorris’s 1995 Oscar-winner), and with the dated electronic score, it does perhaps look more fitting for television as a problem drama. But nevertheless, this is pro-woman advocacy at its most daringly upfront. Three women may stand trial, but it’s ultimately men who are judged.

Rating: ★★★★☆

52FILMSBYWOMEN: 15

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