January 2, 2017

CINEMA | Martin Scorsese Prays for 'Silence'

"The price for your glory is their suffering."
Issey Ogata Martin Scorsese | Shūsaku Endō Silence

Silence is legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese's long-gestating, over quarter-century passion project based on the 1966 novel about "hidden Christians" written by Catholic-Japanese author Shūsaku Endō. The work of historical fiction revolves around two Portuguese Jesuit priests and their mission in seventeenth-century, shogun-era Japan and the violent persecution they face after Christianity is outlawed in the country.

The film is both wondrous and problematic (think "white saviour") in its exploration of devote faith in enemy territory. The "silence" of the title refers to God's quiet (lack of ) response to prayer, sacrifice, and suffering. Scorsese is unflinching in his portrait of religious devotion set against the harsh environment of Japanese oppression. Endō's themes as a Japanese Catholic dissect the compatibility of duelling cultural ideals and philosophies. Persecution and martyrdom also play a heavy role in the characters' search of spiritual validation.

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver star as idealistic padres, Rodrigues and Garrpe, on the search for their mentor, Father Ferreira, played by a barely there Liam Neeson bookending the epic. Ferreira is rumoured to have renounced his faith (apostatize) to live in Japan as a non-believer while the pair seek the truth and salvation.

Garfield gives a powerfully wrenching performance throughout appearing in nearly every scene. He's tasked to display every possible dramatic emotion in the face of incredible pain, agony, and grief as his religious faith is tested in extreme by Inquisitor Inoue—portrayed by a diabolical Issey Ogata. Meanwhile, Driver is stoic and steadfast complementing Garfield. His presence is severely missed whenever the pair's paths depart narratively.

Andrew Garfield Adam Driver Martin Scorsese | Shūsaku Endō Silence

The mostly male Japanese cast around them is quite excellent—particularly Yoshi Oida and Shin'ya Tsukamoto and as desperate true believers in an isolated village—and prevent the material from venturing into tied caricatures or archetypes. A recurring Judas type trough line—involving his the terrifically comedic and dramatic Yōsuke Kubozuka in a repetitive narrative motif involving lost faith and guilt—leads to further religious complications, horrific acts of precise violence, and torture reminiscent of biblical text.

Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks navigate the role of missionary work through colonial history and political interference subtly through the lens of religious expression. Filmed in Taiwan, the film brims with luminous yet restrained imagery of village greenery from visionary cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.

Silence is a passionate but enduringly punishing film about religious devotion and the complex contradictions of faith. Scorsese eschews his trademark lavish style for a quiet, longing introspection of human conceptions of divine worship. It's an exhaustingly earnest story focused on struggle and oppression as the film raises every question surrounding belief without much in the way of satisfaction as the characters are tested at every turn.

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