Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Silence, ça tue! (2008): or, Movies are Murder

Belgian director Christophe Lamot's 2008 documentary-style film Silence, ça tue! (aka Silence, We Are Shooting!: A Feature by Ljo Menzow) is the sort of movie that would probably have moved me more were I a struggling Belgian independent filmmaker frustrated with the difficulties of navigating the Belgian movie-making/arts funding system. Since I sadly don't fall into that rather narrow demographic, I couldn't help feeling I wasn't Lamot's target audience.

Lamot plays Chris, a film student who can't secure funding for any of his projects due to the aforementioned Belgian bureaucracy. Tired of sitting idly by while the well-known, bankable, and to his mind much less deserving darlings of Belgian moviemaking (a dozen of whom I'm sure you can name off the top of your head) suck up all the resources and shooting licenses, Chris recruits a group of friends to shoot a "live movie" that will put him on the map with its innovation and edginess, showing those snobs in the Ministry of Culture what they're missing out on by strangling new talent with their petty quality control rules.

"...which is why I earn extra money as the Busking Butler."

Chris's idea--having a film crew follow him around at all times while he goes to parties, confronts uncaring producers, and creates unrehearsed dramatic situations in an effort to expose the movie industry's hypocrisy--hardly seems all that innovative in 2008, but you'd never know it listening to the young director's hyperbole. His crew of techs and principals aren't quite as enthusiastic, but seem to be used to their friend's delusions of grandeur and come along indulgently for the ride and the liters of alcohol that always seem to be on hand.

Things get a little too real, though, when Chris takes his crew to a replica gun shop and somehow walks away with an actual working piece. (One can assume gun sales in Belgium are as tightly regulated as the filmmaking industry, and one can't just walk into a Wal-Mart and come out with a can of Pringles, an air filter, and a Glock.) Thinking as so many have before that a gat in the hand means the world by the tail, Chris takes his friends to see a movie producer who rejected one of his scripts, with predictably tragic results.

The accidental death of the producer opens a floodgate of violent tendencies among Chris's friends, particularly Nico (Nicolas Anseroul), the longsuffering chubby friend who is often the butt of everyone's jokes. Figuring as long as they're stuck with one body to get rid of (going to the police is out of the question, clearly), they might as well go for broke, Nico borrows Chris's gun and revisits an acquaintance who made a fool of him at a party the crew attended the night before, proving yet again it's always the quiet ones you have to look out for. Nico also shows that he's given this whole revenge/murder thing a lot of prior thought, as he quickly takes everyone to a hardware store with a shopping list of caustic chemicals they'll need to get rid of the mounting pile of bodies.

If you're guessing that's not the end of the bloodshed, you're right--while his friends get drunk and worry about the bloodbath their lives have become, Chris settles a score with a musician friend (ha!) who didn't want to work for free. Later he finds out he's flunked out of film school for lack of creativity and skill (who'd a thunk it?), so of course a visit to the prof is in order. Things go downhill quickly from there, and it's not long before in-fighting shortens Chris's production credits a few entries. With nothing to lose, Chris takes his dwindling crew to the house of a couple of recently award-winning Belgian filmmaking brothers for his final statement on the subject.

"I'm gonna have to face it...I'm addicted to schnapps."

The review copy on BrinkDVD's recent release of Silence, ça tue! hits hard on the fact that the film was "BANNED IN FRANCE AND BELGIUM!"--which it turns out is true. After the murder of a high-profile Dutch filmmaker a few years back, the authorities were skittish about releasing a movie that seemed to encourage or at least emulate such terroristic activities.

However, if it weren't for that real-life murder, the flick would barely merit an R rating. There's very little gore (a "mannequin feet and hands floating in a bathtub of chemicals" shot is as hard-to-take as it gets), and the killings are mostly gunshots from a distance--we get a couple of okay-looking bulletholes, but also a few "magic squibs" that spray blood all over a white shirt without even putting a hole in the fabric. Of course this is clearly a function of the film's extremely low budget, but if you're expecting the next Calvaire or Sheitan--well, you're in for a disappointment.

The marketing material also doesn't do the flick any favors by touting it as "the modern equivalent of Man Bites Dog." While the similarities are evident--both Belgian movies, both documentary style, both involving a series of murders--the movie inside the case couldn't be further from Man Bites Dog in terms of black comedy, disturbing situations, and basic cinematic skill. Again, viewers hoping for another dose of soul-crushing Eurostyle on the level of Balvaux and Bonzel's rightly revered masterpiece are going to come away feeling cheated.

Much as I admire Lamot's drive to get his movie made in spite of being hamstrung by what he sees as an unfair system, I just really didn't think the movie was that good. The documentary-gone-wrong set-up is a budget-conscious choice, but in the post Blair Witch Project days has become one of the lazier cliches. (In fact, the last shot of the movie pretty shamelessly rips off Blair Witch Project's final scene, to much lesser effect.) The actors seem like nice enough guys, but their characters come off as flat and bland, their motivations never really addressed. Lamot is okay as the driven, increasingly insane artiste, and the crew's smiley, engaging sound man has some truly remarkable beardage going on, but really, that's the best that can be said.

I want to hang out with this man.

BrinkDVD's Special Director's Edition has an interview with "director" Ljo Menzow--Lamot in Eurotrash sunglasses and a bad wig--a comedic short which is kind of funny and makes me think Lamot might do better at comedy than at gritty realism. I haven't seen the director's debut feature--Vacuum Killer (2006)--but already I'm willing to bet it's better than his sophomore effort. Also included on the DVD is the trailer and a 16-minute behind-the-scenes reel that shows the hard work and good times the crew had while making their movie.

Many reviewers have been impressed with Silence, ça tue!'s "radical" subject matter and "guerilla style" filmmaking, and maybe if I knew more about the Belgian film industry than I do about Belgian beer, I'd be more forgiving of the flick's stylistic failings. As it is, though, Silence, ça tue! really did nothing for me, and seemed long at 66 mins. 1 thumb, I'm afraid. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

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