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LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit 1971, 84m 33s (S!F), 84m 31s (BFI)


Herzog has said of this documentary, “Of all my films, this is the one I want to be available to audiences the most”—which says a lot about him and his aims, because like the films already dis- cussed, this one makes the viewer more aware of the alienation we feel in relation to our own world, our own kind, that passes for the norm. Whereas Herzog’s earlier films had toyed with the pretexts of documentary and peered into those problematical yet piquant areas where truth and fiction begin to blur, this is a completely straightforward documen- tary portrait of the good deeds performed by Fini Straubinger, a German woman (often described as old when this film is written about, but only 56 at the time of filming) who lost her sight and hearing in adolescence, who devoted her life to assisting individuals and collectives of individuals with like disabilities. In various scenes, we see her consult- ing with others like her but far more withdrawn,


and also with families trying to raise deaf-blind chil- dren whose pent-up, inexpendable energies turn to disruption and frustration. We also see her taking groups of other deaf-blind adults on trips to a pet- ting zoo, where they experience physical interaction with baby elephants and a chimpanzee, and also to an airport, where they are treated to their first expe- rience of airbourne travel, with sign-language narration pressed into the palms of their hands. It’s a warm but consistently uncomfortable film that builds to a surprising depiction of Frau Straubinger’s sudden encounter and communion with a tree, which unexpectedly presents us with a very different person than the healer and educator described by the main body of the picture, whose staunch pushiness tells us that more subtle behav- ior must be observed to be learned. In this climactic scene, she is revealed as someone as abstract and lonely and vulnerable as any person we’ve seen her help. The moment also suggests a curious inver- sion of the climactic scene of EVEN DWARFS STARTED SMALL, in which the President (Pepi Hermine) goes mad from fighting off the inmates’


Fini Straubinger introduces a sensorially isolated child to the vibrations of music in LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS.


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