There are actually two silent parties in Diego Fried’s and Federico Finkelstain’s 2019 Argentinian thriller The Silent Party (La fiesta silenciosa, now available on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunes, and Google Play): the one that gives the film its title and kicks off the film’s action, and a wedding party derailed by the events of that first party. But, first, a bit of background.
Back in the ’90s, a group of eco-activists came up with the idea of hosting outdoor music and dance events that would minimize noise pollution and avoid disturbing the wildlife by providing wireless headphones to the attendees through which the music would be piped. They could dance to their heart’s content without thousands of decibels being blasted out of large speakers.
The idea caught on in the rave community, and soon silent disco and silent rave events sprang up all over Europe and later in the United States. Technology soon allowed for the development of three channels through which separate DJs could broadcast music at the same time. The phenomenon spread to clubs, flash mobs, and even cruise lines.
The Silent Party opens with a shot of empty chairs perfectly lined up in front of a makeshift altar. We also see tables and chairs set around in the periphery. All seems to be ready for a wedding party. But then we hear, first as a murmur, then picking up in intensity, a woman screaming. Cut to a woman in muddied and bloodied clothes locked inside a maintenance room banging at the door.
Fried and co-writers Nicolás Gueilburt and Luz Orlando Brennan immediately take us back to the beginning: Laura (Jazmín Stuart), the woman in the closet, and Daniel (Esteban Bigliardi) are on their way to her father’s ranch the day before their wedding. The tension between the two is palpable. Shot from the backseat of the car, their faces seen in profile, if at all, we see Laura weave in and out of traffic while Daniel admonishes her for her driving and for running late.
Her mood worsens once they arrive at her father León’s (Gerardo Romano) ranch. She may still be his little girl—he still calls her “my princess”—but you can’t help but feel that their relationship is more than strained as she berates him about the family pictures on a table as she turns them face down. Laura and Daniel are there to oversee the final preparations, but it is obvious who is in charge here. Daniel even wants to pay for half of the wedding. León is also a man who blows off steam by shooting at cans with his Glock.
Described as a person who won’t take no for an answer, Laura spends that day drinking copious amounts of wine, trying on her wedding dress, and refusing to eat. She is looking for a way to assert control in an environment where she has none. Even her attempts to initiate a little sexual action with Daniel are rebuffed by her soon-to-be husband.
Frustrated, Laura takes a walk around the ranch and stumbles onto this weird party where people are dancing with headphones on—their brand name? “Life on Mars.” Maxi (Gastón Cocchiarale), one of the partygoers and a friend of Gabo (Lautaro Bettoni), one of the party’s hosts, hands her his headphones and a drink and she immediately gets into the music, dancing like there is no tomorrow. Minutes later, watching from a window, Maxi tells Gabo that Laura is a “short MILF, a perfect combination.” You know the night will not end well for her.
Gabo dances with Laura and she, feeling in full control, starts to make out with him but ends up being raped by Maxi. The rape itself is not drawn out in one, uncomfortable, gratuitous sequence as it often is in thrillers and horror films—think of the infamous I Spit in Your Grave and its ilk. It’s depicted as memory flashes as a confused and shocked Laura leaves the house and makes it back to the ranch.
She returns to Gabo’s ranch with her father’s Glock and beats the hell out of him. Maxi and his friends run for it. Once her father finds out, he locks her in that room, grabs a rifle, gives another to Daniel, and both go after the men. Two men with rifles chasing after a group of men in a dark forest? What could possibly grow wrong?
So, what at first starts like one of those art-house takedowns on the dysfunctions of Argentina’s privileged classes—think Lucrecia Martel’s early films—soon turns into a lean, mean, efficient and ruthless revenge thriller. Like other recent Argentinian thrillers and horror films—Mario Iván Ojeda’s The Funeral Home and Mariano Cohn’s 4×4, both released direct-to-streaming last year—The Silent Party remains committed to the old-school idea of the simpler the better. It ruthlessly follows Aristotle’s principles of unity: the action covers a singular space, is driven by a single plot, and does “not exceed a single revolution of the sun.” And like Ojeda and Cohn—and, for that matter, most Argentinian thrillers—Fried and Finkelstain use genre to explore and even critique social and political mores.
The Silent Party is a film about male toxicity, about the way women are objectified not only as sexual beings but as beings denied their own agency, their own will, mind, and soul. You can hear it not only in Maxi’s grotesque remark but by the way Laura is condescended to by both her father and her future husband. You can even hear it when, rifle in hand, León tells her that this is an “asunto de hombres” (a matter between men) thus denying her desire for revenge—an act which is par for the course for the women victimized by rape in any horror or “B” film who bring hell to the men who abused them.
I’ve never been too comfortable with the use of rape, or any act of sexual abuse, as a plot device. There are exceptions, of course: Jonathan Kaplan’s 1988 film The Accused, starring Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis, about the brutal gang rape of a woman in a bar and how she was further victimized post-facto, was a tough, gritty, effective, and much-needed film about the way society treats rape victims. The actual rape scene is harrowing, uncomfortable—as it well should be—and so is the one in The Silent Party, no matter how brief it is. But in subverting every trope of the revenge film, in showing how Laura is further victimized by León and Daniel and how she regains control of that agency in the end, Fried and Finkelstain have delivered a film that transcends its genre.
In fact, in its engagement with and critique of toxic masculinity, I find The Silent Party to be far more compelling, far more honest, and indeed far more interesting than Alex Garland’s exploration of the same subject matter in his confusing and irritating Men, released early this year. Garland’s film felt like a grotesque list of bullet points in search of a story.
Fried, Finkelstain, and their writers, on the other hand, show once again that Anglo-speaking directors could still learn a thing or two about idea-driven genre filmmaking from their counterparts in the so-called “Third World.”
Featured image: Jazmín Stuart as “Laura” in the 2019 Argentinian thriller ‘The Silent Party’ (Courtesy of Outsider Pictures)