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Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), a Mennonite living in Mexico, is tormented with guilt over his extramarital affair with Marianne (Maria Pankratz). His father (Peter Wall), best friend (Jacobo Klassen) and wife (Miriam Toews) know the truth, but Johan's suffering has to do with his faith, which he can't reconcile with his deeds. Written by
Can light have sound? So what is silent light? Something surreal, somehow related to the hymn "Silent night"? The intriguing answers are provided in the film to the patient, thoughtful viewer. This is not a film for the impatient viewer. "Starlight" (accessible cosmic wonders) begins and ends the filmsilence dominates the soundtrack, except for sounds of crickets, lowing of cattle, and an occasional bird cry.
This opening shot sets the tone for a film made with non-professional actors. The film won the Jury's Grand Prize at Cannes 2007. It is a spectacular film experience for any viewer who loves cinema. This is my first Reygadas film and I have become an admirer of this young man.
Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas writes his own scripts. He is one of the few filmmakers of importance today who does that-alongside Spain's Pedro Almodovar and Japan's Naomi Kawase.
Reygadas' stunning movie "Silent Light" is centered on a collapsing marriage within a religious Mennonite community in Mexico, speaking not Spanish (the language of Mexico) but a rare European language (Plautdietsch) that mixes German and Dutch words, leading up to the eventual renewal and strengthening of this fragile family. Reygadas begins the film with a 6-minute long time-lapse photography of dawn breaking to the sounds of nature and ends the film with twilight merging into the night.
The opening shot was lost on many viewers; a noisy viewer kept talking three minutes into the film, unaware that the film was running, until I had to reveal this surprising fact to him at the 12th International Film festival of Kerala. The film's opening shot was so stunning that after the 6th minute the audience who grasped what was happening began clapping, having savored the effect. The last time I recall a similar involuntary reaction from an audience was when Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" was screened decades ago in Mumbai at another International Film Festival.
There is something magical, supernatural in nature if we care to reflect on a daily occurrence. There is a touch of director Andrei Tarkovsky in Reygadas' "Silent Light" as he captures the magical, fleeting moments in life that all of us encounter but do not register as such. There is a touch of director Terrence Mallick's cinema as he connects human actions with nature (a heartbroken wife runs into a glen and collapses trying to clutch a tree trunk). And there is a touch of director Ermanno Olmi in the endearing rustic pace of the film. Whether he was influenced by these giants of cinema I do not knowbut many sequences recall the works of those directors.
That the film recalls Carl Dreyer's "Ordet" (1955) is an indisputable fact. "Ordet" was based on a play by a Danish playwright Kaj Munk. Reygadas film is based on his own script that almost resembles a silent film because of the sparse dialog. Both films are on religious themes, on falling in love outside marriage, and leading up to an eventual miracle. Reygadas uses these basic religious and abstract ingredients to weave a modern story that is as powerful as Dreyer's classic work by adding the realistic and accessible components of natureautomated milking of milch cows (without milking, the cows would be in distress) and a family bathing scenedo seem to be included as daily occurrences that have a cyclical similarity to the main plotthe collapse and rebuilding of a marriage. Reygadas' cinema invites the viewer to look at nature captured by the film and discover parallels to the story-line. This film is one of the richest examples of cinema today that combines intelligently a structured screenplay, creative sound management, and marvelous photography that soothes your eyes, ears and mind.
Early in the film, the "family" is introduced sitting around a table in silent prayer before partaking a meal. The silence is broken by the tick-tock of the clock. The children are obviously unaware of the tension in the room, except that they would like to eat the food in front of them. The adults are under tension. When the head of the family remains alone on the table (symbolic statement) he breaks into uncontrollable sobs. He gets up to stop the loud clock (symbolic) that evidently disturbed the silent prayer. This action becomes important if we realize that the clock never bothered the family silent prayers before. All is not well. Time has to stand still.
Composition of scenes of scenes in the film remind you of Terrence Mallickthe balancing visuals of men and children sitting on bales of hay on traileragain recalling a cosmic balancing force in life Both "Silent Light" and "Ordet" revolve around a miracle, where a woman's love for a male lover and tears for his dead wife leads to calming a turbulent marriage. The film is not religious but the Mennonite world is religious. Religion remains in the background, In the foreground is love between individuals, lovers, husbands, wives, sons, parents, et al. What the film does is nudge the viewer to perceive a mystical, cosmic world, a world beyond the earth we live in, which is enveloped in love. There is a cosmic orbit that the director wants his viewers to notesimilar to the erring husband driving his truck in circles as though he was in a trance on the farm, while listening to music. Mennonite children who are not exposed to TVs seem to enjoy the comedy of Belgian actor and singer Jacques Brel in a closed van. While Reygadas seems to be concentrating on the peculiarities of a fringe religious group, the universal truths about children's behavior and adult behavior captured in the film zoom out beyond the world of Mennonites. They are universal.
The film begins in silence and ends in silence against a backdrop of stars in the night. The indirect reference to the "Silent night" hymn is unmistakable. For the patient viewer here is a film to enjoy long after the film ends.
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