Hot Docs

Such a Resounding Silence Review: Simmering Rage

Hot Docs 2024

6 mins read

Such a Resounding Silence
(France, 100 min.)
Dir. Emmanuelle Béart, Anastasia Mikova
Programme: The Changing Face of Europe


It’s not often that the brightest stars on the planet take up a cause. And when an iconic actress, the star of scores of movies, confronts the epidemic of incest, something considered unspeakable, something profoundly personal because it happened to her, such a stance becomes wholly ground breaking.

When French film star Emmanuelle Béart’s memories of having been sexually abused as a child began to take over her mind and her body, she knew she had to confront them, to talk to other survivors to understand more about their and her experience and to do something public about it. She engaged filmmaker Anastasia Mikova to find others who would be willing to talk openly about their abuse. The result is a compelling account of how four people, with whom Béart engages closely, have coped with their trauma.

But it’s more than that. In the course of documenting the stories, this doc dismantles the architecture of a society determined, via its public institutions, its exalting of family and its misogynist assumptions, to keep victims silent and to protect perpetrators.

Norma knew the minute she met her grandfather that he was trouble, just from his vibe. She’d been sent to live with her grandparents and wasn’t confident of her place there, making it easy for her grandfather to manipulate her into coming to his room, where he attacked her.  This went on for years until at age 12, she had an orgasm during the assault. She knew then she’d make it stop. She did not want to be controlled in this way or to have her sexuality defined by it. When she told her grandmother about the abuse, her grandmother slapped her, and in the aftermath, she lost her family.

Joaquim was assaulted by both his parents who were themselves in a violent and twisted relationship. It took him 20 years to come forward to the police and he expects to have to wait another two years before his abusers come to trial. The glacial pace of the legal system continues to extend his silence.

Sarah separated from her husband, she thought amicably. She always saw him as a caring father and agreed to share custody of their daughter. Her child returned from a visit declaring that her father had touched her privates and described it in a way that showed she knew the difference between hygiene and “something not normal.” A counsellor at a children-at-risk agency reported back that the child was not in danger, and she should continue to see her father. It wasn’t until he was arrested four years later on other charges of sexual assault against minors that the police followed up with Sarah. Only then did she discover that her daughter’s abuse had continued over the four years. The young girl just couldn’t see the point in saying so.

Pasquale didn’t realize what had happened to her until she was 35 and was watching a movie about a young incest survivor. Amnesia, a typical coping mechanism for abuse survivors, had helped her bury her memories. She had to deal with charges that the recovery of her memories is an example of false memory syndrome, itself a fabricated diagnosis designed to silence victims.

The four stories differ widely but they all have one thing in common: the survivors kept silent for long periods of time. Through conversations with the subjects and experts in the field, the film demonstrates the paralyzing paradoxes that stymie people looking to make abusers accountable. When survivors, like Norma, finally speak, they aren’t believed and are punished and when parents try to protect your children, they are  accused of manipulating them. This happened to Sarah who was then threatened with an exorbitant fine if she refused the abuser visitation rights; reporting by agencies is often discredited as an excessive violation of familial rights.

Béart does not describe in detail what happened to her but by listening and responding to what her subjects have to say, she reinforces her subjects’ perceptions and experiences as she tries to grapple with her trauma in real time before our eyes.

Brief animation sequences that punctuate survivors’ accounts give the film its texture and lovely shots of nature inject some beauty into this powerful account of the terror of incest. It’s not all upsetting. You’ll be awed by the subjects’ resilience, especially that of Norma, who decides to mine her experience in her kickass one-woman stage show.

Such a Resounding Silence screens May 3 at Hot Docs.

Susan G. Cole is a playwright, broadcaster, feminist commentator and the Books and Entertainment editor at NOW Magazine, where she writes about film. She is the author of two books on pornography and violence against women: Power Surge and Pornography and the Sex Crisis (both Second Story books), and the play A Fertile Imagination. She is the the editor of Outspoken (Playwrights Canada Press), a collection of lesbian monologues from Canadian plays. Hear her every Thursday morning at 9 AM on Talk Radio 640’s Media and the Message panel or look for her monthly on CHTV’s Square Off debate.

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