The Sound of Silence

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Sound of Silence
dir Michael Tyburski
scr Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski
prd Tariq Merhab, Ben Nabors, Michael Prall, Charlie Scully
with Peter Sarsgaard, Rashida Jones, Tony Revolori, Austin Pendleton, Bruce Altman, Tracee Chimo, Alex Karpovsky, Tina Benko, Kate Lyn Sheil, Alison Fraser, Larry Petersen, Dov Tiefenbach
release UK Jun.19 eiff,
US 13.Sep.19
19/US 1h27

jones revolori pendleton

There's a hushed quality to this quirky drama, which is perhaps appropriate as it's all about the nature of sound, particularly the impact of discordant noise in our environment. Expanding their short film Palimpsest, Michael Tyburski and Ben Nabors maintain a remarkably whispery, unrushed storytelling style, keeping the audience gripped through the simple power of an offbeat idea. So it piques the imagination even if the story never takes off.
In Manhattan, house tuner Peter (Sarsgaard) identifies sounds that affect moods, in the process creating his own tonal map of the city. His latest client is Ellen (Jones), whose toaster has dissonance with her other appliances. Meanwhile, Peter's former professor Robert (Pendleton) loans him an assistant, Samuel (Revolori), who's fascinated by his work. And so is Harold (Altman), who runs Sensory, a company that uses his invention to fix personal environments. They offer him a job, but he isn't in this for money. He also doesn't understand why he can't resolve Ellen's tonal issues.
Intriguingly, Peter lives in a seemingly century-old analog bubble as the digital city buzzes around him. This gives him an almost timeless quality as he deploys his tuning forks to evaluate the world around him. His powers of observation are fascinating, as he visits Ellen in her home and office, trying to get to the bottom of her issue. Meanwhile, he's struggling to cope with the way Sensory has stolen his work and might be pushing him out of business.

Sarsgaard internalises the character, a man who comes alive when he discusses the secret nature of sound and music and how they affect people. He's so quietly confident that it's easy to see why Ellen is fascinated by him. Jones gives Ellen a wry sensibility that's deeply engaging even as she remains stubbornly outside the central narrative. She's more of an idea than a fully fledged person, as are the other supporting figures, each of whom is nicely played in naturalistic ways.

The film cleverly taps into the sense that so much about the world remains unknowable. People continually tell Peter that his theories are unproven, even as they are working out how to profit from him. Tyburski creates a terrific sense of atmosphere, using striking low-light photography and a playful soundscape. But the story naggingly refuses to come to life, rolling along without generating any sense of momentum or direction. At least the themes keep it intriguing.

cert pg themes 7.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall