This refrain from The Four Seasons’ song is both haunted and haunting, its stated serenity mere illusion. Similarly, Eliezer Arias’ documentary, The Silence Of The Flies, has a lingering disquietude hanging over its subject of multiple suicide, predominantly amongst young adults, in rural Venezuela. Organised by Dr Caroline Bennett, the School was delighted to welcome the film’s executive producer, MA in Visual Anthropology alumnus Gonzalo Chacon, to introduce the screening and participate in a Q & A session, proving to be an engaging, thought-provoking evening.
Arias follows the stories of two ladies, Marcelina and Mercedes, whose daughters tragically took their own lives. One, María José, was a spiky, rebellious character who despised the inherent chauvinism of the society surrounding her, defiantly coming out much to the disgust of her father: the other, Nancy, remains far more enigmatic, any allusions to troubled personality reflected in the figure of her devoted sister, who herself tried to commit suicide when she was eight months pregnant. Silence is very much the thematic heart of the film, for what typifies this seemingly phenomenological outbreak of self-sacrifice is the cloak of hush wrapped around it.
The camera, in its focused gaze, offers a means to liberate the quiet: interspersed with these unfolding narratives are anonymous testimonials of suicide, people throwing themselves in front of cars, blowing their brains out in public or, most commonly, drinking the toxic pesticide that ironically keeps local agriculture thriving. Perhaps as a countermeasure against the pervasive atmosphere of the unspoken, ranging from abuse both physical and sexual to an enforced internalisation of emotional turmoil, it becomes increasingly apparent that these are all self-conscious acts designed to create dramatic impact. Indeed, towards the end of the film, two separate people mention the word ‘pact’ in relation to the demise of a loved one, throwing up an eerie provocation: could these spates of suicides be a unified act of protest against a harsh, regressive patriarchy?
Similar to Joshua Oppenheimer’s recent documentary The Look Of Silence, which followed an Indonesian optometrist confronting the perpetrators of his country’s 1965 genocidal purge, the precise challenge of Arias’ film is to dramatise the effect of silence. Stories are heard in voiceover against images of their narrators, silent in frame but always staring into the lens, searching it, and us, for answers or a means to express their private tragedies.
With questions still so present and answers wholly absent, The Silence Of The Flies ends with a montage of faces now with eyes closed, meditating, perhaps beginning to find some kind of peace now that hush has been broken.
For a brief moment, silence is golden.
The trailer can be viewed here.