There are far too many people today who think misogyny is a manufactured concept. That, somehow, the way things used to be is somehow better than they are now, what with women having voting rights, the ability to own property, possess a bank account without permission form their spouse, and more. The folks that rail against the rising power of women, as though they themselves are diminished in trade, either don’t remember or never took the time to learn that the war for gender equity is not something that popped up due to #MeToo, but has been an enduring concept for centuries, not just in the United States, but around the world. Writer/director Marleen Gorris tackles this in her 1982 debut feature film, dramatic thriller A Question of Silence (De stilte rond Christine M.), now available on Blu-ray in a 2K restoration from Cult Epics.
On an ordinary spring day in 1981, three women, with no prior connection, decide to brutally murder the operator of a women’s boutique. As part of the criminal proceedings, Dr. Janine van den Bos (Cox Habbema), a psychiatrist, is assigned to speak with each of them in order to deliver a prognosis regarding their state of mind. As Dr. van den Bos engages with each one, the details of the before, during, and after of the incident start to form a picture that doesn’t defend the women but accuses society at large for it culpability.
It feels like a little bit of a coincidence to have viewed Rudolf Thome’s 1970 German thriller Red Sun a week before A Question of Silence. Thome’s film explores four female roommates with a pact to kill any lover they have after five days. In this story, the women are in control of their lives, independently housed, financially free, and sexually liberated. The politics of the film explore the shifting nature of gender, with men demanding of the women in different ways, therefore making the violence done unto them seem like a deserved comeuppance in an ongoing gender war that’s experiencing a shift. Gorris’s film tackles similar issues but without the visible bloodshed and in a far more indirect way, allowing the message to creep in until one cannot help but consider the truth within the film’s perspective. That truth? No matter the freedoms, no matter the accomplishments a woman may have, in the eyes of misogynists, a woman is still little more than whatever value that can be derived from them. We get examples of this when we’re shown a flashback of the incredibly bright Andrea (Henriëtte Tol) at work, wherein she gives her advice regarding an upcoming business decision, only for her to be, first, told to make it brief, and, second, had a male at the table restate her thoughts and have it accepted as if she herself hadn’t just stated it. In an interview with Christine’s (Edda Barends) husband, all he can do is complain about how her being in the custody of a mental ward is taking a toll on him, specifically ruminating on how hard could her life have been as a stay-at-home parent. Or, as executed by Gorris’s script, when the panel of judges handling the case continually refer to Dr. van den Bos as “Mrs.” Instead of by her proper title, a micro-aggression regarding her status as an expert in the field of psychology is used, even when also vocally confirming her prestige and pedigree. If one doesn’t fully understand the reasoning behind the assault by the time the film ends, I encourage you to sit with the film, for it makes a slow-but-direct declaration regarding the violence women endure daily from physical to emotional labor, to constantly having to consider how much space they take up, or whether or not safety is promised from one second to the next. I don’t think that anyone would argue that the murder is brutal and ghastly, but that doesn’t mean justification doesn’t exist.
In terms of the physical release, out of the three Cult Epics releases I’ve reviewed, it’s the least impressive in terms of the restoration, though I’m not entirely sure whether it’s the result of the source material or the restoration process. There’s plenty of visible grain, scratches, and burn marks, indicative of its age. Unfortunately, the retail edition sent for home release review by MVD Entertainment Group does not include a booklet of any kind, so I have no sense of how the 2K restoration was created. That said, it’s not in any way ugly or difficult to view/hear. It’s just very of the age it was made. Additionally, there are some issues with the translations, as well, leading to a few amusing moments where the wrong word is clearly used in place of the intended one, but as there are few and far between, there’s no real removal from the film and the drama within. Overall, though, looking its age doesn’t prevent the film from being engaged with in a meaningful way.
Be advised that the press notes indicate that only the first 100 pre-orders of A Question of Silence will include a four-page booklet. So, if you haven’t snagged the home release by now, it’s worth keeping in mind that it may be too late.
Regarding the on-disc materials, there are seven items to choose from in the “Special Features” section, all of which are not new in the traditional sense. There are two interviews from 1982 (one with Gorris and one with Habbema), a feature-length commentary track from film scholar Patricia Pisters, a journal newsreel, a promotional image gallery, a theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Cult Epic releases. If you’re well-versed in the film, then the audio commentary should be the place to start. However, if, like me, this is a first time watch, having access to interviews with the creator and lead actor will go a long way in appreciating the story presented before us.
Having grown up in the Fourth Wave of feminism, I was raised with the perspective that there’s virtually nothing a man can do that a woman can’t. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t engaged in accidental misogyny or required calibration as my male privilege kept me from seeing issues my female friends and loved ones experienced directly. I mention this because watching a film from 1970 Germany and 1982 Netherlands in 2023, one can’t help but see how far we’ve come, but also acknowledge how the problems are almost entirely still the same. So much so that that there’s an entire movement of men who have taken on the name Incel (meaning involuntary celibates) because they feel like they are not getting the attention (read: sex) they “deserve” from women, a notion that many men without a lick of sense maintain even if they themselves don’t identify as an Incel. The point, if it’s gotten lost, is that society still struggles to recognize what women go through daily: the put-downs, the sexualization, the micro & macro-aggressions, the cultural expectations. With A Question of Silence, modern audiences can see that what Gorris explores as an issue-of-the-day remains frustratingly ever true.
A Question of Silence Special Features:
- 2K HD Transfer and Restoration
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Patricia Pisters
- Interview with director Marleen Gorris (Cinevisie, 1982)
- Interview with actress Cox Habbema (Cinevisie, 1982)
- Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1982)
- Promotional Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Cult Epics Trailers
- Dual-layered Disc
- Reversible Sleeve
- Brochure (First 100 Pre-orders)
Available on Blu-ray and DVD June 13th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Cult Epics A Question of Silence webpage.
To purchase, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group A Question of Silence webpage.