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SILENT TOUCH, THE (DOTKNIECIE REKI)(director: Krzysztof Zanussi; screenwriter: Peter Morgan; cinematographer: Jaroslaw Zamojda; editor: Marek Denys; cast: Aleksander Bardini (Professor Jerzy Kern), Lothaire Bluteau (Stefan), Sofie Gråbøl (Annette Berg), Max von Sydow (Henrik Kesdi), Sarah Miles ( Henrik’sWife), Peter Hesse Overgaard (Joseph); Runtime: 96; Forstater/Tor/ Metronome; 1992-Poland)
“The moral of the story centers around whether you believe one’s self-sacrifice for the good of the world is a genuine and necessary one.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It is hard to imagine how a film about a musical genius, Henrik Kesdi, can turn out to be so flat and so offensive. It has a renown veteran actor (von Sydow), who is quite adept at playing the part called for — of a curmudgeon and unsociable giant in the annals of musical composition. What the film also has going, is that it is so meritoriously scored musically as to give it the proper classical musical atmosphere for the story.

It is directed by an innovative and critically acclaimed Polish director, Krzysztof Zanussi, known for his intellectual films that are implicit studies in character (Camouflage, Contract, Illumination) and for his unflagging support of the Solidarity Movement. That it should fall so short in its attempt to be a creative film and is only carried to the level of marginal respectability by the weight of von Sydow’s performance, is hard for me to fathom.

The film opens with the Polish musicologist student, Stefan (Lothaire Bluteau), tossing in his sleep from a recurring dream in which he hears a few bars of magical music. He goes in the middle of the night with this news to see his music professor, Kern (Bardini), who says this sound might be linked with someone whom he went to school with, the composer Henrik Kesdi; but, during WW11 Kern’s wife was a Holocaust victim and as a protest to the cruelty of the world, he has chosen to remain silent ever since. Since Kesdi is living in Denmark, Stefan goes there to see the reclusive composer.

Henrik is seen in his splendid country house as a bitter, crotchety, 74-year-old, who has remarried a much younger woman, Helena (Miles). She is willing to put up with his manipulative behavior, as he claims that all he wants is to be left alone—to enjoy my incontinence in private.

Stefan gains entry into the composer’s house even though he is not welcomed at first, as he cures the composer of his backaches by using a divining rod and discovering a stream under his bedroom; and, by telling the composer to switch rooms when he sleeps. This healing cure-all gets Stefan in good terms with the composer, and so he begins his plan to break his musical silence.

From here on it is all downhill, as you can already guess that Henrik creates a great musical score before the third act ends. So what is left is filling in the details leading up to this grand accomplishment, and for that we can use an attractive young Danish girl. She will come in the form of a musical secretary, Annette (Gråbøl), who will tease the young musicologist but be passionately attracted to the cunningly considerate and intellectually gifted older maestro. He will make her pregnant. Helena will be very understanding of her husband’s needs and they will form a ménage à trois. Stefan will depart for Poland having brought goodness into the world in the form of musical genius, but feeling empty inside because his love for Annette is unrequited.

The moral of the story centers around whether you believe von Sydow’s self-sacrifice for the good of the world is a genuine and necessary one, or that unfulfilled desires are the height of all deceits. These and other interesting questions could have been delved into more deeply if the plot wasn’t so uninspired. Tis a pity!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”