Slamdance 2023 Review: Silent Love

Polish docu-drama explores family ties against anti-LGBT backdrop

In the world of documentary Silent Love, priests denounce same-sex unions, P.E. coaches teach adolescent boys that women crave masculine partners, and Agnieszka must shield her visiting girlfriend from the gaze of a probing court if she wants any chance of adopting her orphaned brother.

Aga, as her adoring “friend” Majka calls her, recently returned to Cieszymowo, a northern village in Poland, after the death of her mother left 14-year-old Milosz without a caretaker. When a judge questions the motivation for fostering her sibling, Aga responds on the verge of tears, “I can’t imagine not taking care of him.”

Silent Love, which had its U.S. premiere at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival, follows the unconventional trio of Frankfurt transplants Aga and Majka, and the quiet but blossoming teenager Milosz. At once a coming-of-age and a coming-out-the-closet story, director Marek Kozakiewicz handles both aspects of the dramatized documentary with grace and compassion, steering clear of overt tragedy or hopelessness.

Still, fear and hatred permeate the foundation of the otherwise beautiful countryside. Milosz, who bonds with Majka over soccer — football, pardon — and shopping in the same clothing department as her, absorbs tinges of homophobia. Never told directly about his sister’s romance, he often echoes the same conservative rubbish he hears from community leaders.

“You know what kind of shoes these are? Faggy ones. Because they’re weird,” Milosz tells an unsuspecting Majka. She dismisses the comment, clarifies they’re girl shoes, then dejectedly adds, “Faggy yourself.”

The 72-minute runtime leaves little room to breathe, jumping across months at a time, but skillful editing on the part of duo Anna Garncarczyk and Agata Cierniak condenses a tiresome court procedure into moments of tenderness and fleeting courage. After all, Aga abandoned her life in Germany to care for her kid brother, but she never allows herself to process her own losses, at least not in front of the camera and certainly not near Milosz. There lies the crux of the film, the tether tugging viewers along: Aga had no obligation to ditch her burgeoning roots. Not from guilt but from a pure heart, she makes it her personal crusade to adopt this boy at all costs. The love she gives may be silent, but the love received? Deafening.

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Slamdance 2023, Silent Love

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