Mute is a show in the same way that Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali‘s Un Chien Andalou is a movie. That feature (from 1924) is on film, yes, and possesses a vague plot arc, actors, sets, and all the usual trappings (save dialogue) but it’s actually more like a moving surrealist painting than a regular film.
I don’t know if the folks who made Mute are fans of that film, or precisely what their intentions are. Everything written about the show is in Portuguese, and the translations provided by my magic internet buttons are imperfect. It seems clear that creators Alexia Garcia and Alexsandro Palermo; and director Sergio Menezes are engaged in a visual experiment, and we are the test subjects.
With any experiment, the first thing you need is a question. In this case, the question seems to be “is it possible to make an effective film with no dialogue and which selectively ignores the Aristotelian unity of time?” The hypothesis was clearly “Yes, if we make it creepy and visually interesting.” And the result? The result was a “show” that I don’t totally understand but cannot look away from.
There are tons of things to unpack here regarding content and visual motifs, but the show is only two episodes old*, and I’d like to give it a bit more time to develop before I indulge in my usual sweeping generalizations. Instead, I’d like to briefly touch on the production values, specifically the lighting, make-up and sound. When you deliberately eschew one of the main techniques of story telling (in this case, dialogue) you’d better be able to make up for it in other ways. Mute‘s score effectively builds tension in much the same way a worried conversation would, without distracting from the bizarre things happening on screen. The lighting and make-up give the sets and actors a gloomy, creepiness which is readily recognizable across cultures and, again, doesn’t necessitate a lot of chatter.
How can you tell a character is a ghost if nobody says “G-g-g-ghost!!!”? Mute suggests that you one can experience a story through context clues. It’s fascinating, weird, and will definitely turn some people off, and that’s fine. It’s all part of the experiment.
Check out Mute on YouTube!
By Kyle Price-Livingston
*Since this was written, the number of Mute episodes is five.