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The Bay of Silence | Review

The Hand That Mocks the Cradle: van der Oest Overwhelms in Overstuffed Trauma Drama

Paula van der Oest The Bay of Silence ReviewSome inherent problems with adapting complex or labyrinthine novels into film requires the excision of some source elements, at least if one is adhering to a traditional ninety-minute running time. An example of continuously juxtaposed and intersecting storylines all vying for attention arrives in the latest film from Dutch director Paula van der Oest with The Bay of Silence, an adaptation of the 1986 novel by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran (daughter of novelist, educator and activist Jan Carew), scripted by actress Caroline Goodall (also acting and producing) with her screenwriting debut.

Although some of the source material’s juicy pulp remains intact, van der Oest and Goodall stuff too many extraneous bits into their interpretation of the material in a film which breathlessly careens between a wide array of plot points before converging into a reveal which is also painfully predictable upon its initial introduction of all the main players.

Will (Claes Bang), who works for a successful London-based design firm, has begun a tempestuous romance with photographer Rosalind (Olga Kurylenko). During a romantic getaway to the eponymous Italian inlet, he proposes marriage. Eight months later in London, a terrible accident forces Rosalind into early labor of their son. Convinced her son was one of a pair of twins (like her other daughters from a previous relationship), Rosalind thinks Will and the medical staff have taken the body of her other infant. Some time passes and she receives a mysterious package from France, apparently the sight of a major trauma which irreparably damaged Rosalind as a teen. Taking the three children and the babysitter, Rosalind disappears, with Will tracking her to Normandy where he discovers his son has died. Burying the child’s corpse, he takes her back to London where her mother (Alice Krige) and ex-stepfather Milton (Brian Cox) are implicated in other secrets thanks to information revealed by Pierre (Assad Bouab), who knew Rosalind as a teenager.

The Bay of Silence feels so overstuffed we hardly have a chance to sit with any one character in particular outside of Bang’s Will, whose performance is almost monotonous by necessity since there’s no time allotted for either character development or emotional unwinding. Likewise, Rosalind’s ‘schizophrenic’ tendencies don’t appear to be well developed or researched to properly reach such a diagnosis, leaving Kurylenko to depend on over-the-top flourishes which read like glaring red flags from the first frame.

Bookended by the picturesque coastal Italian area, it would seem to suggest (along with Will buried in the sand in dual scenes) the overarching theme seems to be the human tendency to ignore unseemly life elements or simply refuse to communicate about them by staying silent or, metaphorically speaking, burying oneself in the sand. If only we had been led to be compelled by any of these people perhaps the narrative could have reached the same heights as the rest of the technical elements promise.

Wasting the likes of Brian Cox and Alice Krige seems a major misstep, especially considering how they might have been better utilized had we excised the screen time afforded bit players who have little to add, such as the babysitter Candy, Will’s caring co-worker, etc. And real dramatic catalysts, such as Assad Bouab’s Pierre, show up fifteen minutes before the final frame to provide a glut of exposition and major reveals for the unsurprising third act.

Although this might be a far cry from van der Oest’s more celebrated titles, such as the Oscar nominated Zus & Zo (2001) or the Carice van Houten led Black Butterflies (2011), The Bay of Silence isn’t unenjoyable—but it’s major crime is having all the trappings of a juicy meal only to disappoint with an utter lack of flourish or flavor.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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