Martin Scorsese's concerns about religion come to the fore in this period piece.


Adam Driver


The great Catholic novelist Graham Greene was a huge admirer of the Japanese writer Shusaku Endo whose 1966 work Silence has now been adapted for the screen by Jay Cocks and the film's director Martin Scorsese. Greene famously differentiated between the more profound of his works and those novels of his which he called entertainments and, whether or not you regard any of Scorsese's films as 'entertainments', there is no doubt that Silence would not fall into that category. This is a period tale set in 17th century Japan which, deeply religious in character, circles around the question of whether or not God actually exists. For over two and a half hours we share the life of a Jesuit priest, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), who, in attempting to support persecuted Japanese Catholics, finds that his own refusal to become an apostate when captured by the authorities leads to converts suffering torture and in many cases meeting their death, beheading being a favoured method. And all the time the absence of any miraculous intervention and his own sense of responsibility make Rodrigues increasingly aware of God's silence.


That situation, growing starker and starker, is at the heart of Silence although Rodrigues is given a companion, Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), whose attitude is rather different and there is a plot-line concerned with their mission to discover if an older priest (Liam Neeson) has been killed or if instead there could be truth in the rumour that he has gone native. There is certainly drama here, but it is not of the kind likely to appeal to Scorsese's mainstream admirers. Here - and he deserves the highest respect for it - he is making a film to express his own uncertainties about the existence of God and doing so in a style closer to that of Kurosawa or Bergman than to American cinema.


As one would expect of Scorsese, Silence displays all his technical mastery and, without anything seeming forced, it includes one memorable set piece of enormous power involving the deaths of four believers by a method that blends crucifixion and drowning. For the rest, it is a long haul - often appropriately so - but one that lacks something in the execution. It does capture what is impressive in men being ready to die for their beliefs, but it misses out on a deeper intensity for several reasons. One is that Garfield, although good, fails to express compellingly the inner depths of the conflict felt by Rodrigues (Driver in his smaller role is more inward). Another is that the accents of several of the Japanese players when speaking English (the film makes limited use of Japanese dialogue with subtitles) make it difficult at times to catch the words in a work in which the talk matters. A further reason may be that the question of whether or not God's existence is an illusion is better suited to a shorter film: the masterpiece on this subject (itself part of a trilogy which concludes with a film entitled The Silence) is Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (1962) which lasts all of 80 minutes. Even so, this an impressive example of a deeply serious film that obviously meant a great deal to the man who made it. 




Cast: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Issei Ogata, Yôsuke Kubozuka, Yoshi Oida, Tadanobu Asano, Nana Komatsu, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Ryô Kase.

Dir Martin Scorsese, Pro Barbara De Fina, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Gaston Pavlovich, Martin Scorsese, Irwin Winkler, Randall Emmett and David Webb, Screenplay Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese, from the novel by Shūsaku Endō, Ph Rodrigo Prieto, Pro Des Dante Ferrari, Ed Thelma Schoonmaker, Music Kathryn Kluge and Kim Allen Kluge, Costumes Dante Ferrari.


Cappa Defina Productions/CatchPlay/Cecchi Gori Pictures/Fábrica de Cine-StudioCanal.
161 mins. USA/Mexico/Taiwan. 2016. Rel: 1 January 2017. Cert. 15