Live theater is never the same twice. A reading of poetry gains power not just from the words being spoken but also from the person(s) reading the poem. Depending on which words the performer emphasizes or where they add in breaks, certain aspects or themes may be more prominent than in someone else’s interpretation. Two people can read the same poem, and the audience will respond in two different ways.
As such, poetry in the visual medium of cinema occupies a rather interesting place. Movies are always the same. The actor’s intonation and rhythm of speech never change. The story never deviates from how it was written, directed, and ultimately edited together. Thus, beyond the words on the pages, poetry in film should use its visuals to invoke images that will put the audience into the appropriate emotional state. Echoes In Silence fails at this spectacularly.
A sweeping vista shot of a beach and the birds flying around, set to a lush score starts the film on the right foot. Then over a minute in, Sanara (Tony-ann Nelson) looks directly at the camera and begins speaking. She talks about how the more she sees, the more she’s blind, the more she hears, the more of her life is lived in silence.
This is conveyed not through dialogue, but a poem. As Sanara recites it, images of nature play onscreen. In the first verse, she says, “…my truth will fly high…” when a shot of a barren tree amongst rocky terrain is onscreen. It does not sync up with what is said in any way. Perhaps if the tree was full of life, but still amongst the jagged landscape that could work — symbolizing her truth springing forth no matter where and no matter the cost.
“…symbolizing her truth springing forth no matter where and no matter the cost.”
However, that is not what we are shown. Is her truth dead? Is she a perpetual liar? The words aren’t saying so, but the visuals suggest something close to that. Due to this discrepancy of the words and visuals, there is no power to be felt. The viewers are unsure of what to feel as they hear one thing and see something else entirely. Sadly, most of Echoes In Silence suffers this same fate.
Then it becomes Shira’s (Ashanti J’Aria) point of view, I believe, as she’s the only one not named. She discusses how each of her friends is one of the elements–Sanara is Earth, Penelope (Wi-Moto Nyoka) is Solids (I have no clue how this is an element. Best guess is that writer/director Viktoria I.V. King has confused the natural elements with the states those elements can exist in; i.e., Water can also be steam and ice), Melinda (King) is Water, Claire (Brie Brewer) is Air, Jennifer (Elena Grosso) is Fire. So, where does that leave her? Most of the visuals are of these six women on the beach. They baptize each other in the waters. They stretch their arms out toward each other, and other such things. It is all so boring to watch. For the sake of time, I am not going to break down everyone’s story, so let’s examine the worst one real quick.
Claire reveals that she is terrified of her friends, learning that the pain she lives with is her best friend. She sits alone in an empty room, save for a piano and the windows. Her loneliness is on full display, but what of the pain? There are no cutaways to an x-ray to suggest physical pain from a broken bone. There are no cutaways to crumpled boxes and poorly packed luggage to signify a home life that is in disrepair. This pain remains ever elusive to the viewer, so they are unable to connect to the story being told. It is the drabbest way I could imagine of visualizing this sequence.
Mind you. I am not suggesting that there needs to be a one to one correlation between the words and visuals. If discussing flight, a plane, a bird, or the sky does not need to be on display. Given how often such wording references freedom, or at least the desire for it, as long as what is seen matches the ideas expressed in some way, we are golden. However, so much of the time is spent with the storyteller in the woods, on a beach, or walking on the sidewalk that the movie feels low stakes and tiny. That smallness is in direct contrast to the big emotional ideas at the core of the film. Echoes In Silence suffers significantly from this contradiction.
“…poetry in film should use its visuals to invoke images that will put the audience into the appropriate emotional state.”
Moreover, none of that is the movie’s worst sin. Slightly before the 16-minute mark of this 23-minute film, there is dialogue. Up until then, the movie has strictly been the women reciting their poems. The several minutes of the friends speaking to each other comes out of nowhere and is so jarring it is confusing. Making this work would be as easy as adding interstitials with two or three of the women conversing with each other at a time in between each poem, thus building up to one long conversation amongst everyone. Then, maybe this could have worked.
Funnily enough, the moment that introduces the conversation is the epitome of the poor directing. The six women are at the top of the stairs, walking down to the beach. One of them states that there’s “truth in the sky” and that she’s “never felt closer to God.” All the audience is looking at is the friends atop the stairs. Why not show us this beautiful sky? Maybe if they were atop a skyscraper, looking across the boundless sky, whose clouds they are close enough to touch, and then they have this moment? As it stands, the moment falls flat. The audience does not understand how they feel close to God because they appear to be next to their friends as usual.
I know the problems with Echoes In Silence sound like they stem from a first time director; however, King has helmed other projects, so I am at a loss for words. The cast is game, the poems are good, but visuals matter in movies. The cinematography is lifeless and actively takes away from the power of the poems to the point where I find this to be a resounding failure.
Interesting side note- the official synopsis of the movie lists only five (5) females. However, there are six (6) actresses throughout the film. Not all of them are in every scene of course, but the six of them consistently show up from the beginning of Echoes In Silence to the last frame.
Echoes In Silence (2019) Directed by Viktoria I.V. King. Written by Viktoria I.V. King. Starring Viktoria I.V. King, Ashanti J’Aria, Wi-Moto Nyoka, Tony-ann Nelson, Brie Brewer, Elena Grasso.
3 out of 10 Dead Trees
"…“...conveyed not through dialogue, but a poem.”"