Archive of films Silence of the Sea / Le silence de la mer

1947, 88 min

Section: Tribute to Jean-Pierre Melville
Year: 2012

A pioneering work of French independent film based upon the renowned, illegally-written novella of the same name. During the Second World War, a German officer named Werner von Ebrennac is lodged with an old man and his niece. The pair endure his presence in silent self-denial, while he tries to convince them of his good intentions to unite the French and German nations.


The illegal Midnight Press (Les Éditions de Minuit) published The Silence of the Sea by Vercors in 1942. The story itself is simple. After France is occupied, an old man and his niece must quarter a German officer named Werner von Ebrennac. He is the picture of courtesy: he asks for permission, he offers conversation, he explains – and to everything they respond with silence. Silence dominates the rest of the plot as well. It is a symbolic expression of resistance in which all of France is keeping silent. The movie was a direct protest against the claims of the occupiers about the "loyalty” of the French nation. In this seemingly small-scale story, the German officer, a character with many positive traits, loves France and believes that the sense of the war lies in the spiritual coming together of everything that is best about the two nations. Jean-Pierre Melville spoke about his debut as an anti-film. He created an onscreen world based on image and sound, while movement and action are suppressed. Even though the director quite literally held to the film’s literary progenitor, he allowed himself some parenthetical flourishes to complement the German officer’s internal monologue, or to round out the plot (for example, the girl’s encounter with Ebrennac in the snowy landscape). The extremely short shoot began on September 11, 1947 and lasted 27 days. In the context of French film, it was one of the first motion pictures produced independently of the state system – the director didn’t have any of the necessary permits, not even the rights to the literary work.


Institut français
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About the film

Black & white, 35 mm

Section: Tribute to Jean-Pierre Melville
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Screenplay: Jean-Pierre Melville podle povídky / based on the short story by Vercors
Dir. of Photography: Henri Decaë
Music: Edgar Bischoff
Editor: Henri Decaë, Jean-Pierre Melville
Producer: Jean-Pierre Melville
Production: Melville Productions
Cast: Howard Vernon, Nicole Stéphane, Jean-Marie Robain
Contact: Institut français

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