"The Silence" of this film's title could refer to many things. It might be the deathly quiet of the home of a mother whose 11-year-old daughter has been dead for 23 years. It might be what the parents of another missing girl hear from the police -- almost nothing. It might refer to the man who watched his friend rape and murder that first girl and then dump her body. He watched in horror, but he never said a word, not to his friend, not to the police and not to the mother who wondered if her daughter would ever come home. This is the worst silence in the film, but it's not the most surprising one. That belongs to a silence that obsesses the murderer and finally leads to the second crime, decades later.

"The Silence," of course, was likely named to capture all these things, and more. The point of this German thriller isn't to guess whodunit, though there might be a little confusion on that point at first. Instead, it follows the aftermath of violent crime on all those who are left, including the man who committed it. Baran bo Odar's tense and taut film does not ask the viewer to empathize with the horrible man who's responsible for a horrible act. But it does bring up questions of responsibility most of us would rather not face.

We see the first girl, Pia, killed in the film's opening minutes. Peer Sommer (Ulrich Thomsen) and Timo Friedrich (Wotan Wilke Moehring) are friends who liked to watch a bit of child pornography together. But Timo had no idea he'd see such filth enacted in front of him. He's disgusted by Peer's crime and refuses to help him dump the girl's body into a lake. He never speaks to his former friend again -- but neither does he turn him in.

On screen
'The Silence'
» Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
» Starring: Wotan Wilke Moehring, Ulrich Thomsen, Katrin Sass
» Director: Baran bo Odar
» Rated: Not rated
» Running time: 118 minutes

After 23 years, it's clear Peer has gotten away with murder. But when another girl goes missing in the Bavarian town, her bicycle found in the same field Pia's was found, the police -- particularly Krischan Mittich (Burghart Klaussner), who's just retired but still haunted by his inability to do justice in the case -- wonder if they have another chance to catch a killer. Pia's mother, Elena (Katrin Sass), begins a relationship with Krischan just as she's forced to relive the details of her daughter's appearance. She wants to reach out to the parents of the newly missing girl, but even she doesn't know what to say to them. Neither does Timo, who watches the investigation unfold on television with as much horror as when he watched the original crime unfold more than 20 years before.

Everyone in this film seems to need someone else. The young officer in charge of the new case and the retired original investigator. Pia's mother and the retired cop. The mother and father of the girl who's just gone missing. And, even more disturbingly, perhaps Peer and Timo.

It's those various relationships, healthy and unhealthy, that are the real subject of "The Silence." The mostly German cast reveal so much of their characters in few words. This thriller shows some of the influence of American films, particularly in the stories of the cops investigating the crimes. But its lean script and large impact are very European. The Swiss-born director Odar has created a film for the world to reckon with.