Silent Light

"Essential"

Silent Light Review


In September 2007, New York art rock outfit the Dirty Projectors released Rise Above, a conceptual cover record consisting of 90 percent of the songs on Damaged, the legendary album from punk godfathers Black Flag, redeployed as skittering indie anthems. The result was something closer to Paul Simon jamming with the Pixies than the power-chord chug many might have anticipated. What was once mainlined aggression and teenage angst now transmogrified into jabbering hysteria and lilting nostalgia.

Similar is the transformation given to Carl Theodor Dreyer's Ordet in Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light, the third and most powerful film so far from the Mexican enfant terrible. Filmed in a Mennonite community in Mexico and the first Plautdietsch film to ever be made, Reygadas' picture takes Dreyer's stoic religious parable and incubates it in a tale of infidelity amongst the most devoted of people. The Mennonite non-actor cast is used, in the strictest Bressonian sense, as models rather than actors that wander about Reygadas' heavily-spiritual, nature-heavy imagery. What emerges is something completely unexpected and unclassifiable: part ethnological study, part spiritual-crisis drama, and part passion play.

While likely to be berated for its pretentious and artsy sensibilities, Silent Light actually ends up being the director's most straightforward affair and certainly his least obviously risqué feature. Against a disillusioned suicide case (Japón) or the frustrated driver for a Mexican general (Battle in Heaven), the grievously-conflicted Johan (Cornelio Wall) registers as nearly innocuous. He goes about his tasks for the day in his pick-up truck, so excited to be seeing his mistress Marianne (Maria Pankratz) that he does a happy dance when he stops to chat with some friends at a farm supply shop. Father of six and son of a preacher man, Johan takes the implications of his affair with Marianne on his wife Esther (Miriam Toews) quite seriously, so much so that he erupts into a fit of tears early in the film as his family leaves for the day.

What weighs completely on the film is the feeling of encompassing transcendence: life itself as holy act. The film itself is one that is based, both aesthetically and narratively, intrinsically on ritual, whether that of the daily or religious. The film's breathtaking bookends, consisting of the camera swooping down from the night sky into a breaking dawn amongst fertile trees and a primal nature scheme, is only the most showy of Reygadas' grasps at the beyond. Even when taking in the black-garbed attendees at the funeral that closes Light, there is a sense of preparation for those very same ends.

In a film of such eerie calm, even the most minor of things seems perverse. The central tragedy happens in a stretch of skeletal trees amongst fog and rain, somewhere that seems equally representative of God and the Devil. Things as minor as a bizarre French singer's elongated number on television and the act of the family bathing in a small shaded pool are scenes of such striking bewilderment that the cumulative strangeness of Reygadas' work may simply seep into you at first before it completely wallops you.

Though Dreyer's style and narrative sense hang over Silent Light like a tattered halo, it is the final act that completely cribs from the master. Struck dead by incommunicable grief and loss of faith, Esther lies in an open pine box at film's end with a praying Johan by her side. The miracle that concludes the film is the very same that concludes Ordet but where Dreyer's gothic visions were embryonic in their power, Reygadas' sunlit act of faith is as expansive as it is enveloping. The result is an object so elementally based in pure cinema that one might call it, well, miraculous.

Aka Stellet licht.



Silent Light

Facts and Figures

Run time: 136 mins

In Theaters: Friday 12th October 2007

Distributed by: Bac Films

Production compaines: Mantarraya Producciones, No Dream Cinema, Motel Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Carlos Reygadas

Producer: Carlos Reygadas, Jaime Romandia

Starring: Elizabeth Fehr as Madre, Jacobo Klassen as Zacarias, Maria Pankratz as Marianne, Miriam Toews as Esther, Cornelio Wall as Johan, Peter Wall as Padre

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