The chatter before a movie is always entertaining as people muse about the coming movie. This time, though, the people were talking in Polish as they waited for the start of “Cicha Noc,” or “Silent Night” in English.
The movie opens with a shaky shot from a home movie recorded by Adam (Dawid Ogrodnik, “Life Feels Good”) as he returns home to his family and wife. Doubt about Adam’s intentions is sewn into the audience with every awkward hug and interaction that suggest he hasn’t been with his family in a long time. “Silent Night” created refreshingly real relationships between each family member that are often lacking in typical holiday movies where families fight, but everything works out in the end. Each one was tinged with the lingering feeling that Adam used to be the beloved eldest son, the golden boy of the family. But as the movie progresses, things have obviously changed, causing the kind of dynamic tension that is often rampant throughout families.
Predictably, “Silent Night” uses the iconic Christmas song as a theme throughout the movie. However, the name is also indicative of the way the film creates drama and pressure. In moments where some movies may have inserted yelling or whispered arguments, “Silent Night” was simply silent. Looks are exchanged and bodies are rigid, but there is no outright yelling. It is the kind of understated judgment that often comes from family members, and, when fighting does actually break out, it is a more dramatic, satisfying moment to watch the characters release their anger.
On the other hand, the movie establishes a balance between the family bickering and the love that is often times hidden underneath all the disagreements. The key here was the shots from Adam’s home movie camera. The movie periodically moves between blue-tinted and stable scenes of the story to the shaky, more realistic view of the handheld camera. Off-kilter shots and candid moments capture the true nature of the family and, at the end, “Silent Night” compiles all of the different clips from the night to remind the audience that, though family is frustrating, it is also an important part of our lives, and, despite evidence suggesting otherwise, family members do what they do out of love.
“Silent Night” also touches on other subjects, such as abusive relationships, with Jolka — Adam’s sister (Maria Dębska, “These Daughters of Mine) — and her husband, or the fight with alcoholism that plagues his father (Arkadiusz Jakubik, “The Art of Loving”) and mother (Agnieszka Suchora, “Off the Stretcher”). There is a quick nod to racial tensions between those of Polish descent and the rest of Europe that is meant to explain Adam’s father’s reasoning for wanting to keep his son in Poland, but that feels a little forced, thrown into the end of the movie. Kasia, Adam’s youngest sister (Amelia Tyszkiewicz, “Planeta Singli”), is really the only put-together character in the whole movie and plays an integral in keeping the family grounded, reminding them of the growing up they all have to do.
One of the feature films of Ann Arbor’s 25th annual Polish Film Festival, “Silent Night” is a typical dramatization of the family tension that runs so high during the holiday season. It captures the diverse experiences that, though unique to each family in detail, are often universal in nature and is an entertaining experience.