2 Minutes Silence, please

The Netherlands 1998, 87 min.

by Marcy Goldberg

How to make memory visible - especially other people’s memories? How to represent silence, freedom, peace? These are stumbling blocks for most documentary filmmakers. But in 2 Minutes Silence, please Heddy Honigmann overcomes them with her usual surefooted approach.

The ‘two minutes of silence’ of the film’s title is a national custom which takes place in Holland each May 4th to commemorate the victims of the Second World War. Honigmann’s film is structured as one day, moving from morning to evening, as she looks at what various people do to observe this event, and gently probes their memories of the past and their feelings about history. The interview sequences were clearly shot in advance, but the film’s grand finale intercuts footage of all the characters, shot simultaneously, as they go through their May 4th rituals during the two minutes of silence. As the memorial bell tolls, we move from one face to another. Having heard the people speak openly, we can almost read their thoughts as they stand in silence. It’s as close as we can ever get to thinking and remembering along with them.

Not all the film’s subjects are survivors; some were not even born until long after the war. They include: an elderly Jewish woman, herself a filmmaker, who has become a spokesperson on Holocaust/Jewish issues; a Dutch woman of the same generation, who was unable to accept her Jewish employers’ plea to hide their two sons. A man who gives guided tours of Amsterdam, and shares his schoolboy memories of the day when the police came to take a classmate away; and a young man who runs a Chinese restaurant and lives above the Dam Square, where the Amsterdam memorial service takes place. A talented young schoolgirl who wonders about how to react when she visits Germany today. And - importantly - the daughter of collaborators, who is deeply uncomfortable with her parents’ past role but remains unable to mourn, perhaps because she doesn’t feel she has the right.

The film’s final sequence is somewhat diminished by the overuse of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ - originally direct sound from a May 4th concert - on the soundtrack. It is a strangely clichéd and heavy-handed touch in an otherwise exceptionally sensitive film. But for her filmic summary, Honigmann accomplished a masterful act of shared artistic vision. For the final sequences of the film, which had to be shot simultaneously, she used four second unit crews. But we don’t for a moment forget that she is at the helm, so successful was she at communicating her unwavering yet sensitive observation technique to her assistant directors.

1999 Dox Magazine