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The Silence

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The Silence

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Due to strict censorship laws, Iranian directors have to make the most of a limited palette, which accounts for why Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The Silence works from a template—the day-to-day life of a poor and/or afflicted child—shared by The White Balloon, Children Of Heaven, and other recent imports. While it may be tempting to dismiss the film as strictly old hat, Makhmalbaf conjures a rapturously sensual world that's more original when experienced than when described. As a child, the director's fundamentalist grandmother would make him put his fingers in his ears to avoid hearing the "evil" music in the streets; his earliest memory of any Western strains is hearing the first four notes of Beethoven's 5th. The Silence reconfigures this story to get inside the mind of a 10-year-old blind boy (Tahmineh Normativa) who relies on, and takes exhilarating pleasure from, his acute sense of sound. He lives hand-to-mouth with his mother (Golbibi Ziadolahyeva) in a small fishing village in Tajikistan, earning an unsteady income as a tuner for a greedy instrument maker. The vague threat of getting kicked out by their landlord provides some ready-made urgency, but Makhmalbaf's chief interest is translating the boy's perspective into cinematic language. Through all the clamor and noise of everyday life, he isolates particular sounds (water lapping, a distant instrument, hammers clanking in time with Beethoven) which offer a kind of beauty that those with sight can never fully comprehend. The boy frequently gets "lost" using his ears as a guide and, in the film's most enchanting sequence, his best friend finds him in a crowded marketplace by closing her eyes and following the prettiest sound she hears. Few characters court the mawkish more than adorable blind children, but The Silence twists the condition into an exalted, almost magical, mode of perception.