The Silence: Child Killers in Germany

The Silence

Opens Fri., March 29 at Varsity. Not rated. 111 minutes.

As the Cold War recedes into memory, child pornography has become the new Communism. I mean, what’s the worst you can say about someone (all the better if it’s unsubstantiated)? Better Red than ped. Who’s that perv hanging around the playground? We should call 911! No one, apart from the Tea Party right, worries about our national order being toppled. But surely there must be a pedophile lurking around every corner, waiting to abduct your child. Our antiseptic, air-bagged culture demands monsters, yet this German crime drama, directed and adapted by Baran bo Odar from a novel by Jan Costin Wagner, subtly complicates the divide between defenders and predators of children.

In a 1986 prologue, two men in a red car follow an 11-year-old girl on a bike into a wheat field. The worst thing happens. One man is clearly culpable; the other is a mute witness, an accomplice who never goes to the cops. They separate for 23 years. Then, near the same wheat field, another young girl goes missing. The police investigation swirls around a suburb half-built before the recession, when land was cheap; then everyone ran out of money. Leading the search is agitated, unstable cop Jahn (Sebastian Blomberg), still struggling with the grief of losing his wife to cancer. Aiding him is cranky old retiree Mittich (Burghart Klaussner), who couldn’t crack the first case back in ’86. And that first victim’s mother Elena (Katrin Sass) now becomes a concerned onlooker in the second girl’s disappearance. “It’s exactly like it was back then,” she tells the police. But why would a serial killer so specifically repeat his crime, right down to the calendar date?

With occasional flashbacks that eventually help explain (to us) the twinned crimes, The Silence proceeds on parallel tracks of guilt. The passenger in that fateful red car becomes a suburban dad with two kids, tortured by the sight of young children cavorting in his pool. Like Leopold and Loeb, he and the red car’s driver are bound by a shameful sexual predilection. The driver, meanwhile, wants for opaque reasons to send a “message” to his former protégé. But after its sparse, almost dialogue-free first scenes, with its many characters and relationships, The Silence wants to expand into a TV miniseries like AMC’s The Killing. Each household in this unnamed bit of Germany has its unique stories and woes (in addition to the police station house), but we only get glimpses inside.

Though inconclusive by American standards (Kill the monster!), The Silence does have the virtue of confounding cop-movie formulas. The ghosts of the past only increase in number, and there’s no solace for the living.

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