FILM – LE SILENCE DE LA MER (2004)

Le Silence de la Mer is a film about resistance. Silence as the only form of available resistance against German occupiers by French nationals in 1941. But its potency lies in what unfurls amidst the silence – a connection, an unheeding love that steals into the heart of a young French woman and a German officer.

During the summer of 1941 a novella was penned by Jean Bruller and published in 1942 under the pseudonym, “Vercors.” In German occupied France, the book became a symbol of resistance. French filmmaker Jean Pierre Melville’s classic 1949 adaptation of the novella, coloured by his “own experience of the sacrifices and the painful moral intransigence that resistance demands,” was avant-garde in the way it gave voice to characters who were mostly silent. Pierre Boutron’s  2004 adaptation is true to the original story, but sixty-three years on the historical moment – still vitally alive in Melville – has clearly changed.

“Une histoire d’amour qui ne resemble à aucune autre.”   — The Press

In a small French villiage, Wehrmacht captain, Werner von Ebrennac (Thomas Jouannet) is billeted with an elderly Frenchman (Michel Galabru) and his adult granddaughter Jeanne Larosière (Julie Delarme). Von Ebrennac, who was a composer before the war is unlike what his hosts expect. Polite, refined, idealistic, he treats them with utmost civility.

They, who have to tolerate him in their home, stoically go about their lives ignoring him, even as he stands talking intimately in their midst. And talk is what he does each evening.  Beginning with a polite greeting, he proceeds to tell night after night, his thoughts about literature and music; his great love for France and the French people; his dream of a new dawning over Europe.

The old man and his granddaughter maintain an attitude of indifference and silence, but inwardly gradually they begin to have new thoughts about this man, a German captain. Then there’s the music. Jeanne, a piano teacher, and Ebrennac the composer, share a love of Bach. Bach gives them the poetry to speak sensuously in a space beyond the silence. The old man watches his grandaughter. Beneath her resoluteness he sees her other swelling feelings.

One night after living with them for a few months, Von Ebrennac, suitcase in hand, announces that he is leaving. Stunned, they listen as he describes his disillusionment with his own government, the “propaganda” he calls it. He’s off to the Russian front, he explains, where German soldiers are freezing to death. Unruly emotions seize Jeanne. Tears streaming down her face she follows him to his car. For a moment they face each other as she speaks her first, only, and last word: Adieu.