By Sean Boelman
After Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance entered the Criterion Collection last year, it seems the boutique label will make a habit of releasing bleak and bizarre Christmas movies. Allen Baron’s hitman drama Blast of Silence may not be what one would usually think of as a festive watch, but it may join many cinephiles’ holiday watchlist.
The film follows a hired gun whose hit does not go according to plan. For those who enjoyed David Fincher’s The Killer earlier this year, Blast of Silence is a must-see, feeling like a sort of spiritual predecessor to the auteur’s thriller. It’s a deconstruction of the hitman genre, taken to its smallest minutiae.
Because the film is so hyper-focused on the small details, some viewers could definitely read it as overly slow. However, Baron’s adroit direction does a fantastic job of building suspense at the right moments. Even if the arc’s eventual end is obvious, the path to it contains so many unexpected twists and turns that viewers will be on the edge of their seats.
A big part of what makes Blast of Silence so interesting is its character development. Although films set in the criminal underworld always have an element of moral ambiguity, there’s little ambiguity in Baron and (an uncredited) Waldo Salt’s script. The protagonist is pretty deplorable — and does some awful things throughout — yet his story is strangely alluring nonetheless.
Baron also stars in the film as the hitman, and his performance is excellent. However, the real standout of the cast is Lionel Stander, who performs the droning narration. Interestingly, Stander was not credited for his voice performance, making his subtle turn all the more impressive. What is missing from the film are some interesting individuals for the protagonist to encounter on his path.
With its 4K restoration, the black-and-white cinematography of Blast of Silence looks absolutely fantastic. It’s the type of film where its strength is its independent sensibility. The story of the film’s production is arguably even more interesting than the film itself, with it being shot on location without permits and with a budget of only $200,000.
The bonus features of this disc don’t offer anything particularly new, with none of them being new for this release. However, they managed to assemble enough cool pre-existing materials for this to be worth upgrading or adding to your shelf. Perhaps the coolest perk of this edition is a graphic novel adaptation of the film by Sean Philips.
Blast of Silence is an interesting film and an important work of independent cinema. For those looking for an atypical Christmas film to watch this holiday season or gift to their favorite cinephile, the Criterion Collection has you covered once again.
The Criterion Collection edition of Blast of Silence is now available.
Review by Sean Boelman
Every year, the AMPAS International Feature Film Award Committee determines a shortlist of 15 films from the submissions each country’s selection committee decides to submit to the Academy. From independent productions to festival darlings that have gained distribution and attention in the United States, there are plenty of great films in the category year after year.
This year, more so than usual, there are five clear frontrunners comprising the “populist” picks in the international feature category. With the backing of major studios, streamers, and auteurs, these five films are not just virtual locks to be shortlisted in the category, but also to get nominated come January.
The favorite — and presumed winner — right now is the United Kingdom’s submission to the category, The Zone of Interest. The experimental A24 Holocaust drama has been picking up several awards from critics groups, and many pundits have this pegged as a strong below-the-line contender, with some potential appearances in above-the-line categories, such as for Glazer in Best Director or maybe even in Best Picture. The Zone of Interest is currently the film to beat in this category.
Next in line seems to be the Japanese entry, Wim Wenders’s Perfect Days. This is the rare submission where the country submitted a film by a filmmaker from another country (Wenders is German). With the backing of NEON, a great deal of critical acclaim, and a beloved performance by Koji Yakusho, Perfect Days seems likely to earn both a shortlist spot and a nomination. It does seem too slight to win, though.
France’s decision to submit Trân Anh Hùng’s The Taste of Things over Justine Triet’s Palme d’Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall was a controversial decision in the cinephile community but seems unlikely to obstruct the country’s path to a nomination. The cooking drama seems likely to have awards voters drooling thanks to strong performances from the iconic Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel, although the true protagonist of the film is the delicious food as it is beautifully photographed.
J.A. Bayona’s Society of the Snow might not have seemed like a serious contender early in the awards season, but it’s picking up steam pretty quickly. With potential love in below-the-line categories like visual effects and score (for Michael Giacchino’s compositions), it seems that, if this is able to get shortlisted, it’s likely to end up in the final five out of support for the technicals, if nothing else.
The Finnish submission Fallen Leaves, the latest from Le Havre filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki, is another film that seems likely to resonate with awards voters. Although this is much slighter than many of the other movies on this list — a playful, 80-minute romantic comedy — it’s earned almost universal acclaim since its debut at Cannes. However, some of the populist picks tend to miss when it comes to the actual nominations, so this may be the one to get shortlisted but not nominated.
Other films that seem likely to make the cut for the shortlist include The Teachers’ Lounge (Germany), The Settlers (Chile), Tótem (Mexico), The Promised Land (Denmark), and Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World (Romania). Furthermore, it would not be surprising to see any of these upset and earn an actual nomination over the favorites.
To round out the final five spots in the shortlist of 15, the most likely candidates seem to be Io Capitano (Italy), The Peasants (Poland), 20 Days in Mariupol (Ukraine), The Monk and the Gun (Bhutan), and The Missing (Philippines). Keep a particular eye out for 20 Days in Mariupol, which will likely be included on the documentary shortlist as well, and The Missing, which could end up being the indie underdog of the race. Other contenders could include Shayda (Australia) and Housekeeping for Beginners (North Macedonia), which both have the backing of major studios that could come into play if they actually make the shortlist.
In terms of dark horses that could sneak their way onto the shortlist in lieu of some of the more high-profile contenders, there is Four Daughters (Tunisia), The Delinquents (Argentina), Blaga’s Lessons (Bulgaria), Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Estonia), About Dry Grasses (Turkey), Godland (Iceland), Amerikatsi (Armenia), and Autobiography (Indonesia).
In many ways, this year is shaping up to be pretty boring in that the presumed frontrunners seem pretty safe to get a shortlist spot and then a nomination. However, if the committee manages to throw us any curveballs — which is possible considering how many strong contenders there are this year — it could hold more of a surprise than we think.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.