The Silent Touch

  • 1992
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Drama

This film from the veteran Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi is a comparatively minor but still entertaining, beautifully-acted work about a composer reawakening to life and music with the help of a mysterious young man. In Poland, young musicologist Stefan (Lothaire Bluteau) awakes from a dream remembering only a few notes of music which he believes...read more

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This film from the veteran Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi is a comparatively minor but still entertaining, beautifully-acted work about a composer reawakening to life and music with the help of a mysterious young man.

In Poland, young musicologist Stefan (Lothaire Bluteau) awakes from a dream remembering only a few notes of music which he believes are somehow connected to reclusive composer Henry Kesdi (Max von Sydow), once the most promising composer of his generation, but silent since the death of his wife

in a concentration camp. Stefan hitchhikes to Denmark and camps out on Kesdi's remote, wooded estate outside of Copenhagen. Suffering from a variety of serious ailments, including rheumatism, angina, asthma, and alcoholism, Kesdi is an irascible tyrant, cruel to his business manager/nephew Joseph

(Peter Hesse Overgaard) but faithfully ministered to by his long-suffering second wife, Helena (Sarah Miles). Kesdi is at first hostile to Stefan, but when his suggestion that a stream beneath the house is causing Kesdi's back pain seems borne out, he invites the determined young man in. Stefan

plays his dream notes, which Kesdi remembers as an old Jewish folksong he meant to use in a work long ago. Later, when Stefan massages Kesdi's head to relieve an asthma attack, Kesdi calls him an angel, and Stefan becomes a houseguest. Kesdi softens, and Helena--who at first distrusted Stefan's

motives--accepts him as a friend. Under Stefan's prodding, Kesdi starts working on the Jewish-melody piece, although his doctor (Lars Lunoe) warns that writing music could be fatal.

Stefan finds Annette (Sofie Grabol), a student, to work as musical secretary/transcriber for Kesdi, and she and Kesdi fall immediately in love, much to the weary consternation of Helena--who has seen all this before--and Stefan, who is also attracted to Annette and warns her that their love

affair must not interfere with the music. Kesdi finishes the piece, and the media trumpets its upcoming first performance. While Kesdi supervises rehearsals, Annette tells Helena that she is pregnant, and Helena chooses to accept the menage-a-trois. Mirroring Kesdi's vigor in reverse, Stefan grows

weaker, and winds up in hospital. The concert is a huge success, though Kesdi collapses at its conclusion.

A year later, Helena calls Stefan, who is now teaching in Poland, and urges him to visit the dying Kesdi. Stefan finds him a serene invalid in a wheelchair, and tells him he has lost his healing powers. But when Stefan picks up Kesdi and Annette's wheezing infant, the baby starts breathing

normally.

Prolific but idiosyncratic director Krzysztof Zanussi is best known for several excellent, rigorous Polish films, including ILLUMINATION (1973), CAMOUFLAGE (1977), THE CONSTANT FACTOR (1980), CONTRACT (1980), THE YEAR OF THE QUIET SUN (1984), and INTERROGATION (1989), as well as for a biography

of Pope John Paul II (FROM A FAR COUNTRY). THE SILENT TOUCH is probably his most accessible movie to date. The story for the film, co-authored with Edward Zebrowski, has been a pet project for Zanussi for reportedly some eight years. (The final screenplay was co-written by Peter Morgan and Mark

Wadlow, with uncredited help from English playwright Snoo Wilson.) The themes here are borderline cliche, probing once again the hoary old questions about the nature of genius and creativity, love vs. sex, the problems of inspiration, and the form and function of the resulting art. Zanussi,

however, injects new life into these ideas, and the film is observant and often moving, smooth and entertaining, and excellently acted. The picture's sole banality is Kesdi and Annette's baby, which rather baldly symbolizes Kesdi's similarly emerging new music. The ambiguous character of Stefan is

particularly interesting. The catalyst for Kesdi's revival of health and talent, Stefan is either merely an obsessed young music fan or, as Kesdi believes, an angel with healing powers, or both. Zanussi's direction is tight and concise, but he allows one somewhat annoying loose end: when the

increasingly ill Stefan winds up in hospital the doctor tells him that his "entire immune system is failing," surely a reference to AIDS that it is never followed up.

Veteran Max von Sydow has a field day as Kesdi, the artist as amoral monster, and Sarah Miles is superb as the impossibly patient and devoted wife. Kesdi's impressive piece for chorus and orchestra is actually "Exodus" by Wojciech Kilar, a much honored young Polish classical composer who also

scored Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. THE SILENT TOUCH is a 1992 Polish-British-Danish co-production, shot in English on locations in Copenhagen, Kracow, and Warsaw. (Nudity, sexual situations, adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1992
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: This film from the veteran Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi is a comparatively minor but still entertaining, beautifully-acted work about a composer reawakening to life and music with the help of a mysterious young man. In Poland, young musicologist St… (more)

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