Fouzia Taouzari, psychoanalyst in Nantes (French), is a member of the School of the Freudian Cause (Paris) and the World Association of Psychoanalysis (WAP)
“To remain silent is to let others believe that one judges and desires nothing, and in some cases, it is indeed desiring nothing. Despair, like the absurd, judges and desires everything in general and nothing in particular. Silence translates this well.” – A. Camus, The Rebel.
The Act Between Silence and Consequence
Joachim Lafosse won the Best Director Award at the 18th Rome Film Fest in 2023 for his tenth feature film – A Silence (Un silence). It will be released on January 10. Lafosse continues his exploration of the family in the light of what we call in psychoanalysis, the clinic of the real. After The Restless (Les Intranquilles) (2021), a profoundly human film about the psychosis of a father and its repercussions on the family unit. And A perdre la raison (Our Children) (2012), which dissects how a woman plunges into the unspeakable act of infanticide – a modern Medea – highlighting the mechanics of the act. Joachim Lafosse was inspired by a true story for both films, with mythological undertones, starting with the passage to the act and then retracing the path, implying a logic. For A Silence, Lafosse uses the same narrative technique, creating a timely film about abuse, intrafamily violence, and the code of silence that binds and poisons bodies. It speaks to our post #MeToo era, emphasizing the complexity of speech where speaking involves an act that engages subjectivity. A Silence is a letter left in suspense. Lafosse elevates silence to the dignity of a symptom to decipher, stating, “the act of remaining silent does not free the subject from language.” (1)
The film takes us into a grand bourgeois mansion where appearances are deceiving. A Silence immerses us in the heart of human complexity with a subtle and profoundly modest atmosphere – horror is represented in the background, away from prying eyes. Doesn’t Lacan consider beauty the last defense before horror? Through the mother and wife – the keystone of this family drama – we enter the film. The film’s plot is deduced through the gaze of a silent and faded woman: behind the mother, seek the woman. What happened to her? These questions give substance to the silence she embodies with her flesh, body, and screams. A Silence revolves around a generation of sacrificial women. Mater dolorosa, that’s the face we encounter from the opening of the film. She opens the doors to her gilded prison. Let’s follow her, silently, to resonate with her murmur.
A Silence – the silence of a woman buried behind the roles of mother and wife.
“Before, it was like this. Before, wherever I stand, whatever century in the history of the world, I see women in a precarious, untenable situation, dancing on a tightrope above death.” These words of Marguerite Duras painfully suit Astrid. This silent woman, working for her husband, opening his letters, taking care of their son, compensating for her guilt with possessions. A phantom of herself, absent to herself. Where is she? From the first seconds of the film, the director invites us to follow Astrid – poignantly portrayed by Emmanuelle Devos. What fabric is her silence woven from? Silence and sealed lips. She vowed to silence, sacrificing her feminine desire in the process. A Silence is the silence of a woman who experienced trauma when she was about to become a mother. Incest created a hole in Astrid’s subjectivity – she was ejected from the realm of speech. Doesn’t Lacan say that “the prohibition of incest is nothing other than the condition for language to persist”? (2) Her silence indicates how she remained plunged into the dark night of trauma. The unspoken infiltrates every part of the family unit. It is the silence of a woman who sacrificed her femininity on the altar of motherhood and conjugo. She yielded in the name of an ideal of love: that of creating a family at any cost. How many women don’t press charges when a husband becomes violent? When I ask this question, the majority of women victims of domestic violence I encounter respond: I can’t, he’s the father of my children. Children are often seen as the ones hindering complaints and/or separation, but they suffer. Just look at the statistics to be alarmed by such a plague, indicating how our society remains deaf to it. Violence against women and children has its roots in psychopathology. During clinical interviews, it is not uncommon to hear women pinpoint the turning point when violence begins during pregnancy. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Joachim Lafosse’s film, where the father perversion is triggered when he must assume a symbolic function that eludes him.
Paternal function / Mother’s desire
Being a father involves embodying a symbolic function in flesh and blood. One becomes a father based on who one is – the habit does not make the monk. A Silence implicitly reveals what the father represents in the patriarchal context, criticized today by many feminists. It is the fathers of abuse, these false and pathogenic fathers, who push the child to take refuge “in the maternal fantasy, the fantasy of a mother denied as a woman.” (3) As Lacan reminds us, it is crucial not to forget that the key to the father – his symbolic function – the one that humanizes desire, lies in the fact that “the cause is a woman.” (4) In other words, this is about how the father deals with the feminine alterity represented by his wife. A father who thinks he is the father can only lead to the worst. If education is not innate or natural, if it requires a particularized, non-anonymous desire, the transmission of symbolic law depends on how the father deals with it and how he deals with feminine otherness. A violent, abusive man is a pathogenic father. For many women, leaving and filing a complaint take time and require a certain courage – not to give up on one’s desire. The courage to have the right to be respected, loved, desired, and to have somewhere else. It requires being convinced that one deserves something other than guilt-inducing and demeaning words. I think here of the strong words of a woman I followed for a few years: “Coming here to talk, being heard, made me realize that my voice matters and that I deserve to be respected. Growing up in the violence of a father and the lovelessness of a mother who suffered made me think it was normal to be mistreated by men.” There are a thousand reasons to stay, endure, and accept the unacceptable. To break free from the grip, shame, and guilt that silence, one must find an address to speak in order to read what led us down that path. In the name of what do I remain silent? In the name of what do I accept the unacceptable? Only under these conditions can desire find a way to pave a path for a different direction in life. Vanessa Springora courageously testified to this in her book, Consent. In the name of what had she consented? She consented to words of love that gave her a place. To be the exception for a man. In A Silence, Astrid is the only one who has forgiven her husband’s criminal acts. She believed in his words. “You are the only one who believed in me…” he will tell her when she escapes. Astrid believed her husband would change. And how many women believe they will change? As a mother, Astrid became the guardian of tradition: maintaining family balance and forgiveness. Once the balance is disrupted by her daughter’s revelations, her entire sacrifice collapses. It is in the name of the ideal of the family that she remained silent. That is the root of her consent: in her role as a mother grappling with tradition .
Father of abuse
Joachim Lafosse paints the portrait of a man with a dual face, due to his perverse structure. Like the god Janus, François – masterfully played by Daniel Auteuil – embodies both a great courtroom lawyer defending the widow and the orphan, and in the darkness of his office, he transgresses the law to satisfy his perverse pleasure. Raphael, the adopted son of the couple – portrayed with finesse by Matthieu Gallou – is a collateral victim. He gained access to the father’s perverse pleasure too early. Therefore, the coordinates of the son’s passage to the act can be read in the family constellation. That’s why Joachim Lafosse chose to make him an adopted child. How many children, adolescents, suffer direct and indirect violence within the intimacy of the family home? How many healthcare services struggle to extract them due to lack of resources? How many in the legal world insist on, at any cost, maintaining the link between children and these fathers? Is being the biological father sufficient to define oneself as a father? Lacan, in this regard, is a compass, emphasizing the role of the feminine element overlooked by Freud in the Oedipus myth triad – father, mother, child. Lacan added this essential fourth term. A father worthy of his name is the one who humanizes desire because he is subject to castration – lacking and therefore desiring – and who makes a woman the cause of his desire. A father worthy of his name is entitled to love and respect, for he is a man who never forgets that behind the mother is a woman and as such opens up a possible elsewhere for her. To put it in Camus’s words, a father worthy of his name is a man who restrains himself because “happiness is not everything, and men have their duties.”(5)
Starting with the act of the son, there follows a logic based on this principle. As Joachim Lafosse points out, “Whether writing ‘Our Children or A Silence, the question that always occupies me is how one can get to that point, how the drama unfolds, how an 18-year-old young man can be led to commit the unthinkable.” (6) With his unique approach to grasping the elusive, he delicately unfolds in his film the logical coordinates that lead to the passage to the act. We often forget that beings have a history and that crime is part of the world of speaking beings. A Silence portrays a perverse father and illustrates its dramatic consequences on the subjectivity of a son who knows how much his father is a fraud. The adolescent, finding no symbolic support to face the challenges of existence, must then find other means to mortify his body. Alcohol, addiction, and risky behaviors are attempts to express something that cannot be said through words – “it’s when demand is silent that the drive begins.” (7) The adolescent is condemned to wander in the face of the abandonment of his symbolic environment. How can one believe in justice when the one embodying it transgresses it? He doesn’t believe in it. How could he? When the father lectures and moralizes him (holding his son by the shoulder while showing him the horde of journalists) – the son responds, “Don’t touch me anymore, you disgust me.” To his sister, he says, “I’m not like him.” Don’t touch me anymore, you disgust me.” To his sister, he says, “I’m not like him.” The passage to the act becomes an attempt to separate himself. Am I also a monster? By striking the father, he strikes himself. The son embodies in his flesh the consequences of having a false father. Between the father’s lair where he experiences the encounter with traumatic sexuality and the silence of a mother who gave up her womanhood, Raphael is taken hostage. He escapes from this prison through the act, but at what cost? The adolescent’s crime is inscribed as the naked truth of the pathogenic couple formed by his parents. The son’s act simultaneously breaks the mother’s silence. It took a “I revolt...” – initially prompted by Astrid’s daughter – for a “so we are” to emerge. (8)
An Intimate yet Highly Political Film
Lacan had prophesied the downfall of the father in the postmodern era. A Silence fits into this context, praising the superiority of women when they no longer compromise on their desire. It is a liberating film that allows us to see beyond the smoke and mirrors. Intimate and political, the film stands on the threshold of reality, giving thickness and logic to what escapes. It is also a film about our own blindness to deceptive appearances, where victims not only have to break the wall of silence but also deal with shame and guilt. Speaking is an act of relinquishment that transforms the subject. It is a leap into the void – vertiginous! An act of enunciation that engages the most intimate part of oneself. Joachim Lafosse delicately sheds light on human lives as they encounter the cruel banality of existence. Through his cinematic work, he contributes to giving a voice to those who are not heard. To the invisible. To the forgotten. . To the crazy people. To the fragile. To the silent. To the gagged. We measure the progress made through the portrait of these two women – mother and daughter – each a symbol of their time, without denying the clinic of the real, which remains timeless. That is the strength of A Silence, powerful and dizzying at the same time.
(1) Lacan J., Le Séminaire, Livre XIV, La logique du fantasme, texte établi par J.-A. Miller, Paris, Seuil, coll. Champ freudien, 2023, p.256.
(2) Lacan J., Le Séminaire, Livre VII, L’éthique de la psychanalyse, texte établi par J.-A. Miller, Paris, Seuil, coll. Champ freudien, 1986, p.84.
(3) Miller J.-A., « L’enfant et l’objet », La petite Girafe n°18, décembre 2003, Paris, p.10.
(4) Lacan J., Le Séminaire, Livre XXII, « RSI », Leçon du 21 Janvier 1975, in, Ornicar ?, n°2, Navarin.
(5) Springora, V. Consent, Harper Collins, 2001
(6) Camus A., Le malentendu, Édition Gallimard, Coll. Folio Théâtre, 1958, p.53.
(6) Dossier presse, https://filmsdulosange.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/DPresse-Un-silence-vf-def.pdf
(7) Lacan J., Le Séminaire, Livre XIV, La logique du fantasme, texte établi par J.-A. Miller, Paris, Seuil, coll. Champ freudien, 2023, p.256.
(8) Camus A., L’homme révolté, p.38.