As a straightforward character drama, Vahid Mousaian's Silence of the Sea (Khamushiye Darya, 2003) is a relatively impressive effort. Our story revolves around Sia (Masoud Rayegany), an Iranian citizen who illegally left his country several years ago. Currently living in Sweden with his wife and children, Sia ponders a return visit to his home---and though it might be dangerous, his nostalgia has already gotten the better of him. Plotting the best course involves going through a port where no visa is needed; even so, his personal safety isn't guaranteed, especially when he dares to venture further inland. As the packaging succinctly describes Silence of the Sea, it's basically a struggle to decide whether the past or present is more essential.
As expected, this relatively brisk film is almost completely insular, introducing us to only a handful of key characters. The dialogue is ponderous but often to the point---and while the journey unfolds, our main character comes to terms with his personal conflicts. Though my knowledge of international cinema is scant, it's easy to see that Silence of the Sea was obviously a very personal statement for director Mousaian. There's a strong desire within all of us to yearn for home---but given the character dynamics on display here, Silence of the Sea unfolds as layered drama rather than a laborious, sentimental journey. Featuring a collection of solid performances, a steady flow and a strong atmosphere, this is a film worthy of seeking out on its own terms. Certain themes and segments may be lost (or blurred) in translation, but there's enough here to satisfy fans of international cinema.
Unfortunately, those looking for a solid DVD treatment of the film are completely out of luck. The atmosphere and overall effect of the film are almost entirely muted, thanks to an appalling technical presentation and a complete lack of bonus features. Though the holiday season normally softens my judgment, this could be the most unimpressive DVD in recent memory. Those even mildly interested in Silence of the Sea shouldn't bother with this poor effort from Pathfinder Home Entertainment, which completely outweighs the strength of the film itself. Just for the record, let's take a closer look, shall we?
It's all downhill from here. Simply put, Silence of the Sea is cursed with perhaps the most horrible technical presentation I've seen on DVD thus far. The unsteady, non-anamorphic image is cropped awkwardly at roughly 1.50:1 and features milky black levels, poor image detail and plenty of dirt. One particular nighttime sequence is practically an all-black screen, though two characters can be heard speaking to one another. In all honesty, this may very well be a filmed projection or a poorly-mastered VHS dub. If that weren't enough, notable amounts of edge enhancement and interlacing can be spotted along the way. Overall, I've seen better looking DVDs from the $5 bin in Chinatown...so if there's one reason to avoid Pathfinder's release entirely, this is it.
NOTE: The back of the packaging features relatively colorful and crisp stills from the film...but these appear to be production photos, not screen captures (as seen above). Very sneaky!
As expected, the audio quality also fails to impress on any level. Presented in what appears to be a fairly standard 2.0 Mono mix, there's very little dynamic range and most of the highs sound blown out. Music and dialogue frequently fight for attention, but at least the forced English subtitles ensure that you'll understand what's going on.
Silence of the Sea isn't a bad film on its own terms---but as savvy DVD enthusiasts know, it takes more than a good movie to make a worthwhile release. Pathfinder Home Entertainment's one-disc package is hardly a substantial effort, featuring a terrible technical presentation and absolutely no extras to speak of. Overall, this is one disc that fans should flatly avoid---but if you're halfway interested in the film itself, perhaps a better international release is available elsewhere. For now, Skip It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.