Berlinale Crystal Bear winner Night of Silence is a striking Turkish drama directed by veteran documentary maker Reis Çelik. The film, set over just one night, documents a newly wed couple’s first night in their nuptial chamber. The catch is that ‘The Groom’ (Ilyas Salman) is a weary middle aged man and ‘The Bride’ (Dilan Aksüt) is in her early teens. We learn early on that the Groom has just got out of prison, a fall guy for his mobster superior, and is entering into the marriage in order to end a blood feud in their Anatolian locale. In the early scenes we see the authentic wedding ceremonial tasks being undertaken, before moving into the bedroom, where the camera stays for the rest of the film.
The two of them have never met before, and because of the veil guarding her,The Groom has never even seen her face. The Groom is relieved and happy to be out of prison, and initially seems grateful for the chance of a wife and a new start. The Bride is understandably terrified, however, to be entering into a new life away from her family and with this grizzled older man who she has never met before. For the viewer the situation creates an immediately unnerving tension, as we witness The Groom’s feeble attempts to make the Bride feel more at ease.
Essentially a two hander, Çelik revels in the claustrophobia of the environment, just a small room decorated in quietly lavish wedding ornaments that only serve to remind the two of them what is expected of them. The Bride begins to open up a little and relations begin to warm, but it is clear that she is only conforming to the duties that have been pressed on her. The film has a horrible tension running through it; will the two of them consume the marriage like the village expects them to, or will they refuse and suffer the consequences of another possible feud? The stakes are raised when we see that the Groom has brought his gun, which he stashes ominously under the pillow. Although one doesn’t like to judge the values and traditions of other cultures, it is difficult not to view the film with an expression akin to Munch’s painting The Scream.
The two performances by Salman and Aksüt needed to be excellent and they are. Salman, not quite the Justin Bieber lookalike that the Bride would have preferred, brings a naked desperation to the role. This is a scarred man painfully aware of his flaws and unable to escape them, and here it seems like he is watching his own car crash from the side of the road. Aksut, meanwhile, gives a naturalistic turn as a vulnerable and delicate young girl, trying to come to terms with the horrifying situation. Çelik’s direction is unshowy, letting the drama play itself out. Night of Silence is a morbidly compelling, intense film with an uncompromising view of an unsettling part of Turkish culture.