It’s a full seven minutes (and then some) into Patrick Shen’s In Pursuit of Silence before anyone speaks a word. The very first ‘talking head’ is a man undertaking a vow of silence and communicating solely through writing on paper. It gets more talkative after that, but only out of a sense of necessity. Which is not to say that In Pursuit of Silence is a ‘quiet’ film, taking its silence to mean the absence of human sound and wittering, instead opening with a pretty montage of cricket-chirruping fields, dusty old buildings and a slow road with the occasional vehicle (and silent hipster type) passing through the frame. It’s almost a shame when somebody does open their mouth, ruining that lovely peace and quiet. The things they say, however, bear listening to.
This is the film’s salient talking point – how a quieter, more contemplative lifestyle could do us all a world of good, if only we could all just shut up for long enough to realise it. The point is perfectly illustrated by contrasting its scenes of silent woodland bliss with clips from FOX News and its mouthy inhabitants; the idyllic mountains of Alaska offset with busy cities and the gobshite-ridden streets therein. In Pursuit of Silence is as itchy-footed as your average Brian Cox or Michael Palin documentary, spanning the globe in search of its most peaceful silence.
The merits of shutting up are well considered throughout, from a Japanese tea party ceremony (when everyone is quiet, no-one dominates) to a woodland in which we take a moment to reflect on the benefits to one’s health afforded by solitude and contemplation (including an increase in cancer-reducing cells!). Modernity, the film posits, is constantly affecting our physical and mental health; our mood, our behaviour and perception. After over half an hour of the lovely, blissful stuff, the switch to the hustle-bustle and the racket, which comes later on, makes this point quite nicely, leaving the audience feeling unexpectedly antsy and uncomfortable (indeed, taking a much darker turn when we reach Mumbai).
In Pursuit of Silence is fascinating, beautiful and immersive. As a necessity of its subject matter, its sound is purposeful and considered (the occasionally uninspired background music aside), its every word thought through and precise. Occasionally, its imagery stumbles, and struggles to keep up with the powerful subject matter, but never for long. It does, briefly, threaten to become as pretentious as it sounds, whenever its vow-of-silence talking-head is onscreen (particularly in his visit to Subway) but returns to the right track once he disappears again.
In Pursuit of Silence is engaging, fascinating and thought-provoking. Listen up, this quiet little documentary has a lot to say.
IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: PATRICK SHEN / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 21ST
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10