Beyond Silence

Germany/Switzerland 1996

Reviewed by Nick Kimberley


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Germany, the present. Martin and Kai are deaf-mutes who depend on their eight-year-old daughter Lara to interpret for them, through sign language, the world beyond the family. Lara sometimes uses her power to her own ends, but her relationship with her parents, particularly with her father, is close. The three spend Christmas with Martin's parents and his sister Clarissa, a gifted clarinettist whose music entrances Lara. Clarissa gives Lara a clarinet which becomes her obsession. Martin worries Lara devotes too much time to music and is wary of her relationship with Clarissa. Meanwhile, Kai gives birth to another girl. Lara confirms her baby sister can hear by playing clarinet to her. She continues to translate for her parents and persuades her mother she should learn to ride a bicycle, something she's avoided because of her deafness.

Ten years later, Clarissa suggests Lara come to Berlin to develop her musical talent. When Martin discovers their plan, a row ensues and he throws wine over Clarissa. Nevertheless Lara comes to Berlin, where she meets Tom, a teacher at a school for the deaf. A romance develops. When Lara learns her mother has died while cycling, she returns home. Martin suggests that Kai would still be alive had Lara not encouraged the riding. He discovers Lara's relationship with Tom which angers him. Rejecting her father, Lara returns to Berlin and auditions for music college. Martin attends the audition, which puts Lara off until he tells her in sign language that he wants to understand. Rapprochement is at hand.


In a movie with sound, can deafness ever be presented as anything other than a lack? If music is a healing force, where does that leave those for whom there is no music? Caroline Link has made a decent and honourable film, which might fit in the genre of disability-centred 'problem movies'. But it's hard not to feel that here deafness is a device that enriches our understanding not of deaf-mutes Martin and Kai, but of their daughter Lara. She is the fulcrum of the movie, her centrality emphasised by the fact that just as she uses sign language to mediate between her parents and the outside world, so she must also translate for us, the spectators. Why else does she speak while signing if not to let us know what is being communicated? Deafness (not her own) is a problem that she must solve in order to grow, while Martin's failure to accept the limitations imposed by deafness is the problem he must solve.

At only one point during the movie does Link attempt a point-of-view that might be read as representing deafness: the opening sequence has Lara skating on a frozen lake, our view of her sometimes interrupted by the view from beneath the ice, where the sound of her skates reaches us as if across a great distance and through immense muffling barriers. It is a beautiful, almost hallucinatory passage, yet even here we are aware that what's being communicated is frozen experience. Real life goes on out of sight, out of reach.

Carefully made and sensitively acted (particularly by the two actors playing Lara: Sylvie Testud and the remarkable Tatjana Trieb as the child Lara), Beyond Silence is a touching, at times even a tear-jerking film. Indeed, in one interview, Caroline Link has remarked wistfully, not to say enviously, "People like to cry in American movies." Why, then, the implication goes, shouldn't they cry while watching a European movie? An emotional response does not pre-empt understanding. Nor, on the other hand, does it guarantee it, but by and large Beyond Silence earns our snuffles.

And Link is clearly aware of the problem she has set herself. As in so many movies, music here is healing, enriching, Lara's means to escape. Yet when she visits the school where Tom teaches deaf children, she finds him in a music class. He gets the children to lie on the floor while music is playing and Lara joins them. When the children feel the sound through the floor, one by one they get up and begin to dance. Lara, however, remains on the floor. She can't feel the music. "Poor Lara," says Tom.

It's a sweetly ironic moment, and reminds me of what it feels like to attend signed opera performances. These are routine performances in every respect save one: there's a signer at the side of the stage. Yet by some strange alchemy, the signer's gestures intensify the dramatic, perhaps even the musical experience, although I can't read sign language and certainly cannot understand the experience of those for whom the signer is translating. Beyond Silence has no duty to educate us about deafness, nor to make us empathise. It does, however, make us think and feel. 'Problem movie' or not, it deserves credit for that.


Thomas Wöbke
Jakob Claussen
Luggi Waldleitner
Caroline Link
Beth Serlin
Director of Photography
Gernot Roll
Patricia Rommel
Art Director
Susann Bieling
Niki Reiser
©Claussen-Wöbke Filmproduktion GmbH/Roxy Film GmbH & Co. KG ? Luggi Waldleitner
Production Companies
Bavaria Film International/Buena Vista International presents a Claussen-Wöbke Filmproduktion and Roxy Film - Luggi Waldleitner production
Co-produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk/
Süddeutscher Rundfunk/Arte/
Schweizer Fernsehen - DRS
Supported by Bayerischen Landesanstalt für Aufbaufinanzierung, LfA/Filmboard Berlin-Brandenburg GmbH/
Bundesministerium des Innern, BMI
Executive Producers
Uli Putz
Roxy Film:
Dieter Nobbe
Associate Producers
Christina Undritz
Thomas Martin
Andreas Schreitmüller
Martin Schmassmann
Production Manager
Claudia Loewe
Unit Production Managers
Chris Evert
Verena Herfurth
Assistant Directors
Michael Kreindl
Margarethe Heitmüller
Sebastian Grobler
Regina Spreer
Heidrun Haensch
Script Supervisor
Sarah Duve
Risa Kes
Nessie Nesslauer
Script Advisers
Christel Gräf
David Rodgers
Underwater Sequences
Future Effects
Katharina von Martius
Constanze Knapp
Key Make-up
Heidi Moser
Iris Müller
Claudia Becker
Lutz Lemke
Claudio Puntin
Michael Heitzler
Imke Frank
Ivo Schmid
Adam Taubitz
Oboe/English Horn:
David Seghezzo
Andreas von Wangenheim
Niki Reiser
Chamber Symphony Basel
Aura String Quartet
David Klein
Music Co-ordinators
George Naschke
Sigi Naschke
Music Recordist/Mixer
Thomas Strebel
"Roter Salon", "Weihnachten und Aufnahmeprüfung" by Jochen Schmidt-Hambrock; "Elokim Eli Ata" by Ora Bat Chaim, performed by Giora Feidman; "I Will Survive" by Dino Fekaris, Freddie Perren, performed by Gloria Gaynor; "You Were on My Mind" by Sylvia Fricker, performed by Crispian St Peters
Sound Supervisor
Andreas Wölki
Tschangis Chahrokh
Sound Effects
Joo Fürst
Sound Effects Recordist
Jan Bennert
Sound Effects Editor
Brigitta Tauchner
Karin Hoppe
Sylvia Bartsch Mayer
Sign Language Coaches
Sabine Gossner
Gunter Puttrich-Reignard
Rosemarie Hasenhütl
Sign Language Interpreters
Howie Seago:
Bill Moody
Emmanuelle Laborit:
Laure Boussard
Sign Language Tutor
Steffi Abel
Clarinet Tutors
Natascha Eikmeier
Annabel Dashwood
Max Geller
Sylvie Testud
Howie Seago
Emmanuelle Laborit
Sibylle Canonica
Matthias Habich
Hansa Czypionka
Tatjana Trieb
Lara, as a child
Alexandra Bolz
Doris Schade
Horst Sachtleben
Hubert Mulzer
Herr Gässner
Birge Schade
Fraulein Mertens
Stephan Kampwirth
bank adviser
Léa Mekhnéche
Laurel Severin
Martin, as a child
Selestina Stanisavijevic
Clarissa, as a child
Julia Lorbeer
Alexis Segovia
Anna Bickhofer
Stefan Spreer
Susann Bieling
toyshop saleswoman
Karin Lehmann
secretary at music conservatory
Stefan van Moers
colleague at music conservatory
Marta Rodriguez
lady at concert
Jutta Schaad
music conservatory employee
Ute Cremer
Franz-Hermann Hanfstingl
music conservatory teachers
Father Groll
Axel Hauguth
colleague at printers
Carmen Härdle
Stephan Lewetz
young couples
Anna Müller
Caroline Otto
Benedikt Obermayer
Patrick Schleuter
Noemi Gäbelein
Christian Marschal
Ruth Obermayer
Giora Feidman
special guest
Joe Basar
Tony Falanga
Annika Pages
voice of Lara
Gala Film Distributors
10.174 feet
113 minutes 3 seconds
Dolby stereo digital SR
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011