The Silence

Screenshot from Mohsen Makhmalbaf's 1998 film "The Silence", featuring actor Tahmineh Normatova holding a fruit next to his ear in front of a cluster of people

Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s The Silence (Sokout), the second in his ‘Poetic Trilogy’, is an entrancing entry in the longstanding tradition of children-centric films in Iranian Cinema. What seems an initially simple slice of social realism gradually reveals itself to be a broader meditation on Sufism and the spiritual rapture of all music.

The film’s plot follows a blind boy named Khorshid (Tahmineh Normatova) who works at a music shop tuning instruments. His sensitivity toward melodic sounds make him a skilled worker but also distract him whenever he hears the rhythmic sounds of outside life. This proves to be an obstacle for our hero, who must procure money for the landlord threatening to evict both him and his mother (Golbibi Ziadolahyeva). Yet Makhmalbaf forgoes any traditional sources of narrative tension to conjure a series of tranquil, nearly laconic, sequences following his young protagonist venturing where the music takes him.

The strains of Sufism permeating throughout The Silence manifest in the recurring appearance of mirrors, as well as the symbolic position of the Divine Feminine occupied by Nadereh (Nadereh Abdelahyeva), Khorshid’s slightly older friend and companion. Yet Makhmalbaf doesn’t contain Yet Makhmalbaf doesn’t contain his study of Sufism within any cultural or geographical boundaries. The film’s Tajikistan setting underscores its status as a Tajik-Iranian co-production while Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony provides the film its dominant leitmotif. The result is a film deeply invested in its spiritual quandaries miraculously devoid of dogmatic didacticism. In under 80 minutes, Makhmalbaf’s film transports the viewer into an intensely subjective space which reconfigures our preconceived notions of how music in film can conjoin the secular with the divine in cinema.