In December 2015 the School of Anthropology and Conservation was privileged to welcome alumnus Gonzalo Chacon for a screening and discussion of the award winning documentary ‘The Silence of the Flies’ for which he was co-executive producer. Guest contributor James Kloda reviews the film below. All images included are courtesy of NorteSur Producciones.
“Silence is golden/But my eyes still see.”
This refrain from The Four Seasons’ song is both haunted and haunting, its stated serenity mere illusion. Similarly, Eliezer Arias’ documentary, The Silence Of The Flies, has a lingering disquietude hanging over its subject of multiple suicide, predominantly amongst young adults, in rural Venezuela. Organised by Dr Caroline Bennett, the School was delighted to welcome the film’s executive producer, MA in Visual Anthropology alumnus Gonzalo Chacon, to introduce the screening and participate in a Q & A session, proving to be an engaging, thought-provoking evening.
Arias follows the stories of two ladies, Marcelina and Mercedes, whose daughters tragically took their own lives. One, María José, was a spiky, rebellious character who despised the inherent chauvinism of the society surrounding her, defiantly coming out much to the disgust of her father: the other, Nancy, remains far more enigmatic, any allusions to troubled personality reflected in the figure of her devoted sister, who herself tried to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant. The dichotomy of silence is drawn thus: present absence and absent presence. And silence is very much the thematic heart of the film, for what typifies this seemingly phenomenological outbreak of self-sacrifice is the cloak of hush wrapped around it.
Similar to Joshua Oppenheimer’s recent documentary The Look Of Silence, which followed an Indonesian optometrist confronting the perpetrators of his country’s 1965 genocidal purge, the precise challenge of Arias’ film is to dramatise that dichotomy of silence. Stories are heard in voiceover against images of their narrators, silent in frame but always staring into the lens, searching it, and us, for answers or a means to express their private tragedies. The effect of this disconnect is persuasive, a voice only able to be candid when disembodied from its speaker.
The images themselves are desolate, vast pockets of empty space pushing compositional detail to the fringe leaving a void centre-frame: figures are almost exclusively shot in isolation and, when a group is seen together, it is always from a distance. Perhaps the most striking articulation of the palpable absence at the heart of these communities is of a frozen photograph depicting María José filling the screen as the sound of her brother scrubbing down walls prior to decorating scratches metronomically on the soundtrack: a face etched domineeringly in close-up to the tune of attempted erasure.
The Silence Of The Flies is not always this gracefully lyrical. Indeed, some of its more stylised imagery seems too studied: dew drops fall from drooping leaves as Polaroids of victims float down streams. And whilst the lack of objective narration allows us to relate directly to troubled biography, it sometimes becomes difficult to understand whose story we are now following.
Yet there is so much to tell, clamouring to get out to reach some form of resolution, that confusion is perhaps inevitable. With questions still so present and answers wholly absent, The Silence Of The Flies ends with a montage of faces now with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps beginning to find some kind of peace now that hush has been broken. For a brief moment, silence is golden.