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Film Review: Silence in Dreamland (★)

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silence-in-dreamlandSome films have poetic titles just for the sake of it, while others possess a literal meaning in the context of the film. Tito Molina’s aptly named Silence in Dreamland is one of the latter. In this arthouse drama, words are few and dreams are a welcome escape.

Silence in Dreamland centers around a single unnamed character, an elderly woman (played by Bertha Naranjo) who spends her days at home. Her husband has passed away, leaving her to live out this quiet, lonely existence. She has no friends, except for a canine companion she meets one day. Throughout the film we witness her go through her daily routine. We see her conduct menial tasks like sewing, ironing, watching TV and making the bed that she’ll eventually sleep in. When she does sleep, she goes off to a dreamland by the seashore, where the calm waves take her to a higher level of peaceful serenity. Curiously, these dreams aren’t any more exciting than her real life. Sure, the location is scenic – captured beautifully by the cinematography – but essentially, she’s still doing what she does all day…absolutely nothing.

It’s this nothingness which makes Silence in Dreamland so irksome. Where other directors found ways to intrigue with similarly contemplative character studies, Molina falls short. Namely, the cinematography gives way to bland, unstimulating images outside of the fleeting dream sequences. The interior setting just doesn’t lend itself to this kind of austere filmmaking as say, the apartment in Michael Haneke’s Amour.

The film’s visual design isn’t the main deal breaker however. Its biggest problem is the lack of an engaging presence on screen. The underlying concept undoubtedly has potential, but it ultimately goes nowhere because the character fails to resonate. In casting Naranjo, Molina has unfortunately overestimated her skill set in this type of role. Some actresses can grab your attention without saying a word, but Naranjo is not one of them. There’s no sense of an inner life and the constricting script doesn’t help. She doesn’t seem especially happy, yet she displays no urgency to add any spice to her life. The lack of human interaction is particularly confounding in light of several scenes where she indicates an interest in the outside world.
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Of course, she may just be content with her dull life. Her dreams certainly don’t show any aspirations to anything greater. Indeed, there are probably many persons out there who are just like her. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate well to cinema. In the end, this literal rendering of the film’s title proves to be its ultimate downfall.

Silence in Dreamland is the Ecuadorian submission for the 2014 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Click here for reviews of other official submissions.

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane is a passionate cinephile and Tomatometer-approved film critic residing in Kingston, Jamaica. When he's not watching or writing about film, he spends much of his time wishing he lived in a big city. Shane is an avid world traveler and loves attending film festivals. He is a member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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