My Thoughts Are Silent (Moyi dumky tykhi, in the original Ukrainian) is one of a small clutch of films about or featuring a sound recordist, sitting alongside the likes of Silence (from Ireland), Upstream Color (USA) and Berberian Sound Studio (UK). All are odd and left-field in different ways, with My Thoughts Are Silent the most deliberately comedic. Which is not quite the same thing as “funny” though it does have its moments.
There’s a black and white prologue before the film proper gets going, set in Hungary in 1526, where some priest is trying to flog a “holy relic” to two priests. “A foreskin?” asks one of the clerics hopefully. It turns out that what the priest has in his box is a milk tooth from the head of the baby Jesus. The problem is that if he opens the box to show them, it will disintegrate into dust. Of course it will. But, to offer them reassurance, he strikes a bargain with them. Touch the box, he says, and within a week you will have experienced a miracle, at which point you will buy this tooth at our agreed price.
And there the prologue ends, the action shifts into the present day and colour and we meet Vadim, a gangly amiable sound recordist who is being relieved of his money for dental work, the dentist giving him the modern-day equivalent of the priest’s mumbo-jumbo, technical-sounding pseudo-science justifying the $750 price tag.
It was ever thus seems to be the message, and bullshit of one form or another is a recurring theme in a film which soon settles into a groove.
Vadim is commissioned to go into the field and capture the cry of the Fussy Mallard (for use in some religious video game), among other animals. By a stroke of luck the Fussy Mallard can be found in Transcarpathia, his native region. By another stroke of luck his mother is a taxi driver and at a bit of a loose end.
A road movie ensues, with an odd couple pairing at its centre. He’s in search of animals to record, she’s in search of a man. Both are worried about what the future might bring. Perhaps he should emigrate to build a better life elsewhere, leaving his mother, too old to change, behind.
A succession of weird, sketch-like scenes follow each other, often with a non-sequitur ambience. “Tea? Coffee? Tiramisu?” asks a waiter at one point. At another point they wind up at a hotel called Twin Peaks, which is indeed like a David Lynch hotel inside – ugly furniture, terrible decor, pregnant pauses, mad hair. At yet another the owner of an unco-operatively silent parrot tells Vadim that he can make the bird squawk by making out with her. My husband’s soul, the lonely widow tells him, resides here, she says, placing his hand on her breast.
In between scenes in which Vadim (Andriy Lidagovskiy) and his mother (Irma Vitovskaya) fret about the future or Vadim pursues one animal or another (a goat, an owl, an ostrich and so on), director and co-writer Antonio Lukich gives us picture postcard views of the staggering beauty of Transcarpathia, throwing into even sharper relief the Soviet-era buildings sitting in it, as if a sparkling window pane had been wiped with a dirty rag. Communism – more cosmic bullshit.
As state-of-the-nation movies go (or state-of-the-former-Soviet-territories), it’s got an eccentric attack, that’s for sure, and comes to “on the one hand… and on the other” conclusions that are hardly incendiary. However, unusually for a feature debut, My Thoughts Are Silent has the confidence of its own relaxed pacing. Somehow, it manages to be both leisurely and yet packed with incident.
© Steve Morrissey 2021