Written by: Matt Patti | August 13th, 2020
The Bay of Silence (Paula van der Oest, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
Dutch director Paula van der Oest (Black Butterflies) has made many foreign-language films and even had a film nominated at for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. However, her newest film, The Bay of Silence, is mostly in English. The film is based on a 1986 novel of the same name written by Lisa St Aubin de Terán. When it comes to books being adapted to film, there are usually two camps: either the story is remarkable and the film is well-received, like some of the massively successful tentpole franchises based on books, or, many other times, the film is stuffed to the brim with content and some important aspects of the source material are skipped over in order to fit the feature-film time restraints. So many films like these fall victim to trying to fit a large, long story and so much information into a 90-minute film, a tall task when its a substantial source material. Unfortunately, while the concept of The Bay of Silence is an interesting one, it falls into the latter camp of book-to-film adaptations.
The film begins with two lovers embracing each other in the Bay of Silence, a body of water in Italy. The two lovers are Will (Claes Bang, The Square) and Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko, The Room), and the film continues in a quick montage of them growing together and ultimately settling down in the United Kingdom. Eventually, they marry, Rosalind (or Ros) gets pregnant and they create a family of their own, with Ros additionally bringing two twin girls of hers from another relationship into the marriage. A freak accident causes the pregnant Ros to go to the hospital and have their son prematurely. From there on out, Ros behaves strangely, having some scary anxiety attacks and sleepwalking fits. One day, Will comes home and finds that Ros, the twins and their baby boy are all gone. He searches for answers, finally finding them off-shore in a beach house in France. There, Will discovers the unthinkable: their newborn son is dead and Ros is in a paranoid mental state. Refusing to believe his wife is responsible, Will sets out to discover what happened to his son and what has made Ros behave so strangely. He soon uncovers dark secrets of Ros’s past that make him question if he knows his wife as well as he thinks he does.
The performances in this film all around are exceptional, especially Bang and Kurylenko as our central couple. Kurylenko does a great job portraying Ros as a paranoid, scarred, unwell woman at times while also at other times presenting her as a loving, caring wife. Even the child actresses in the film are decent. The opening of the film, while rushed through at light-speed, still captures viewer interest, and the mystery of Ros’s past keeps things interesting throughout the film. So, where does The Bay of Silence go wrong?
My issues with The Bay of Silence can be summed up in one word: oversaturation. There are far too many characters, reveals, twists and moving parts in the film to keep track of and the plot gets fairly messy and convoluted. I seldom feel that a film has too many characters, but this is one of the rare cases. Small, seemingly irrelevant characters whose name you might have heard once in the beginning of the film come back to play a larger role near the end of the film, and while this might sometimes be an interesting surprise, it is not here, mostly because of the bewilderment from not being able to recall some of these characters at all. There are also far too many subplots in the film, some of which aren’t even given a resolution at the end. These subplots detract from the intriguing main storyline and leave the audience in confusion as to their relevance. In the end, there is a lot left unexplained and that ending, itself, is also very abrupt, yet also predictable.
This oversaturation, as I stated before, is a consequences of many book-to-film adaptations. The film could be longer, as it stands at only around 90 minutes. Perhaps an extra half hour could help to tie up some of the loose knots. This is a film that, if you watch it multiple times, you could possibly understand it in its entirety with no confusion. But on a first viewing, there is just too much information thrown rapid-fire at the audience to be able to comprehend everything fully. The performances all work well, our characters and the overall concept are interesting, and the film is well-made, technically speaking. However, there are too many things that are glossed over, too many confusing and unexplored bits of information, and not enough consistency to be able to enjoy the quality parts of the film. Like so many other book-to-film adaptations, The Bay of Silence ultimately drowns itself in an ocean of convolution.