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Sundance: "The Sound of Silence"

Abe Fried-Tanzer reporting from Sundance

There is a lot of noise in New York City. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who disagrees with that statement. Suggesting that there is meaning to be found within the multitude of sounds emanating at all volumes and all times of the day and night is more of a stretch. That’s the premise of Michael Tyburski’s The Sound of Silence, playing as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Sundance.

Peter Sarsgaard stars as a 'house tuner,' also named Peter, who helps people achieve an aural balance in their homes that will translate to harmony and tranquility in other aspects of their lives...

When he meets Ellen (Rashida Jones), who relays symptoms of insomnia, he prescribes a quick fix: get a new toaster that is more in sync with all of the other appliances in your apartment. The ineffectiveness of that solution puts Peter’s whole worldview in jeopardy, which is particularly distressing as it coincides with a major corporation that is looking to corrupt the sanctity of his research for mass commercial implementation. 

Writer/Director Michael Tyburski making his feature debutThe Sound of Silence belongs to a genre that could be described as “slightly sci-fi” with imagined professions that could exist but don’t. Like the on-demand personalized letters from Her, it’s something people may not have realized that they need. Like the cure-all dental procedure from Touchy Feely or the miracle acupuncture from Song of Back and Neck, it’s a simple diagnosis meant to solve the problem permanently that eventually won’t work anymore. In a Q & A Tyburski confirmed that this job doesn’t exist but said that he would like to think that there are house tuners out there who believe in a rhythm of the city. Tyburski’s co-writer Ben Nabors explained that both of them are from rural places outside the city, and that he was inspired to begin this story when he was living in New York City in a noisy apartment with a loud radiator.

The sound of a city feel just as much a character here as Peter and Ellen do. Adapted from his own twenty-minute short Palimpsest (2013), Tyburski's feature-length light drama is most effective in pairing the reserved and business-oriented Peter, whose muted blazer and meticulous nature define him, and the more social but skeptic Ellen. She challenges his argument that everything can be analyzed and then calibrated, rejecting the idea that her behavior is prescribed by the neighborhood she lives in or the places she visits each day, where sound can reach her. This entertaining film is understated and not overly ambitious, but its exploration of the mystery of aural meaning is undeniably thought-provoking.


previously in Sundance coverage

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Reader Comments (2)

i found this film tedious. i was at the sundance premiere and heard the director generously refer to it as a 'slow burn'. unfortunately, there's no burn—that would give it at least... something. i thought it was well crafted, but the story is paper thin, with little pay off. i never saw palimpsest but kept feeling like this feature would be better off as a short.

January 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPHIL

I agree. It didn't go anywhere quite as interesting as I might have hoped but the concept still got me thinking.

January 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAbe

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