It has taken 30 years to bring Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s 17th-century parable about faith under fire to the big screen but although flawed, Martin Scorsese’s entitled simply Silence (now on release nationwide) has been worth it.
The opening scene’s disembodied head foreshadows the horror that is to follow. Father Ferreira is on a Jesuit Missionary mission to Japan at a time when Catholic teaching is outlawed, when he witnesses what happens to those who convert from Buddhism.
Back in Portugal, Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe are told their mentor has renounced God and is living as an apostatised priest so the pair decide to travel to Japan to save Ferreira. It is not an easy trip and on their search, Rodrigues and Garupe preach the gospel to villagers who keep their religion hidden because they have no other choice.
The priests have to contend with various forms of torture from hot water scalding to upside down hangings while travelling through the country to track down their mentor. After the two are separated, Rodrigues is interrogated by a Japanese inquisitor who wants to break his captive psychologically rather than martyring.
Scorsese, who wrote the screenplay with Jay Cocks, maintains the Jesuit point of view through Rodrigues’s struggles but there are no real protagonists or antagonists.
Silence asks the provocative question: at what point and after how much pain would you denounce your core beliefs? However, though visually eye opening, the film at just under three hours is punishingly long and woefully unengaging at some of its most critical moments, while the script is rather repetitious in places. Furthermore, be warned – some of the scenes of violence and persecution are not for the squeamish.
The movie, however, exudes a strong sense of realism largely due to the convincing naturalistic performances by the well-chosen cast. Andrew Garfield, in particular, generates genuine emotion as the soulful Father Rodrigues, a man who is fighting not just for his life but also his spiritual wellbeing, while Adam Driver is equally impressive as his sturdy companion Father Garupe.
Liam Neeson, although off-screen for much of the story is excellent as Father Ferreira who also gets to dig into the fine line between faith and survival.
Shin’ya Tsukamoto gives a heartbreaking performance as an unwavering Christian convert, Yosuke Kubozuka co-stars as a man whose loyalties are constantly shifting, Tadanobu Asano is coolly menacing as Rodrigues’s interpreter once he is captured and Issei Ogata, a comedian in his own country plays Inoue, the relentless inquisitor who is charmingly eccentric though viciously punishing.
Like much of Scorsese’s work, this movie is consumed with doubt, ego and sacrifice, as a spiritual journey turns into a revealing statement about the threatening power of colonisation.
In cinemas nationwide from 1st January 2017
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