Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Farshid Akhlaghi .
Until I saw this documentary, I had never heard of a music thanatologist before. What is a music thanatologist? It is a little known esoteric subsection of palliative care, a hybrid mix of music and palliative medicine in which a trained specialist plays music to terminally ill patients as they face their final moments, to give them peace, calmness and solace as they pass away peacefully. Peter Roberts is Australia’s only qualified music thanatologist. He has been doing this line of work for 23 years.
Peter previously worked as a furniture salesman, but he found the work unfulfilling. He was then inspired by a poem from thirteenth century Persian poet Rumi which he heard on the radio. Rumi is considered a cornerstone of Islamic literature and his words deeply affected Peter and inspired him to change his life. He spent two and a half years studying in America before setting out on this unorthodox new path. He learned how to watch the patients for emotional and physical cues as they responded to his gentle music.
Peter works at a local hospital in Geelong, and his music comforts people in their final hours. It is something of a lonely job, and also emotionally painful. But we also see how his efforts bring peace and have an impact on the lives of the families he encounters. He also plays to premature babies in the nursery, which seems to have a calming effect on them as well.
From Music Into Silence is the first feature length documentary from award winning Iranian/Australian filmmaker Farshid Akhlaghi, who partially financed the film through a crowd funding campaign. From Music Into Silence was a passion project for Akhlaghi, who spent three years following Peter around and filming him at his unique line of work. He and AACTA award winning co-editor Steven Robinson (Putparri And The Rainmakers, etc) have carefully whittled the footage down to the 80 minutes we see on screen, shaping the narrative strands.
As well as filming Peter as he goes about his work, we also see him at home carefully constructing his own harps in his workshop. Akhlaghi also follows Peter on a pilgrimage to Turkey where he visits the spiritual home of Rumi and his ancestors. He also visits Gallipoli and contemplates all the death and destruction of a generation of young men who lost their lives in WWI. He plays his harp to the graves of the soldiers from both sides of the conflict. This was something of an emotional and personal journey also as Roberts’ grandfather landed on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1916.
Akhlaghi’s intimate and inspiring film deals with themes of life and death and music, and the connection between them. Bart Walus’ music score is evocative and perfectly suits the tone of the film.