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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.
This is certainly not a film for everybody and I will be careful in who I recommend this movie to. It is challenging because it is very unsatisfying to the 5 senses we are used to (over)feed. This movie is like meditating, you need to surrender to it, ignore what your mind is telling you about what a movie should be, surrender to the slowness first and then to the lack of almost everything we are normally used to in a movie. There is so little you can chew on, no acting, inhibited emotions, no laughter, even the acclaimed picture is unsatisfying (don't see this movie for that reason). Everything is internal, barely reaching the surface. If you can tune in though, like in a meditation, you will become ultra sensitive, sense the subtle and begin to enjoy. Some scenes may even totally fill your spirit. One word of caution though, if you intend to see this movie in a theatre: it is very likely that some people will become uncomfortable and leave, keep talking, protest etc... which makes it even more difficult to watch it with serenity so renting it as a DVD may be a more suitable option. If you are the kind of person enjoying a walk in the countryside contemplating nature without talking you'll probably enjoy this movie. If you prefer talking or being entertained then chances are that you will not.
The movie is about a father of a big family living on a remote farm, in old fashioned way. He falls in love for another woman and is caught in between love and respect. I think it was both very interesting and unusual in the same time. I didn't know anything about it when I watched it, except that it's 140 minutes long :) Yeah, the movie grows very slowly and you have to be very patient while watching it. Some parts contain very little communication, and other are very Lynch-like. Some stuff that you would consider unimportant are carried out into details in the movie. The music and the scenery shots were beautiful, and the acting was good. It was an unique experience and I hope you'll know what I think about after you see it.
I am officially senior this year and I have seen a lot of movies, but I doubt if I will ever see a better one than this. I find it hard to analyse why it is so amazingly magic and captivating. I'll try not to bore you, as I have done to all my friends who haven't seen it. I think the ambient sound-designed soundtrack and the restrained, poignant and profound dialogue are the most revelatory aspects of the films construction. Indeed I can't think of another film comparable for emotional clout using such economic material. Although I share the filmmakers disappointment that his film is not embraced by a larger audience, I was lucky enough to see this movie in an all but empty cinema in London and joyfully, tearfully and emotionally sucked in every molecule off the screen and surrendered to its visceral magic. It could be twice as long, I don't care it was utterly beautiful. It felt totally authentic, real and relevant to me. There were admittedly, a lot of personal resonances for me in there. I had just been on a mature gap to a rural part of Australia visually similar to Mexico and most of the time I was driving around in my ute in torrential rain or baking sun. No telly, no adverts, no phones and no urban pressure....bloody delicious. Some of my ancestors were Mennonites so I am very sympathico to their lifestyle ethos. Anyone who has been in such a love-triangle will recognise the veracity of the plot. I was totally blown away back in my own time during it and revisited Stellar Licht for weeks and weeks after wards. I would love to watch again but I think it needs the big screen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Set in the austere Mennonite community of northern Mexico, Carlos
Reygadas' Silent Light is not about suffering and sin but about the
enormous power of compassion and what it takes to be truly alive.
Filmed in consultation with the Mennonites, a Christian sect of
European descent who speak Plautdietsch, a German dialect, the film is
paced very slowly, almost excruciatingly so, but its meditative pace
allows those with patience to enter the interior lives of the
characters in a way that is normally not possible in cinema. With
outstanding performances by non-professional actors that reminds us of
Bresson and Tarkovsky, the film's physical beauty brings poetry to
ordinary events such as machines harvesting crops, the milking of cows,
and the faces of children having their hair shampooed.
Johan (Cornelio Wall), a father of five young children, is involved in a love triangle that has made him remorseful and uncertain of God's approval. Torn between his wife Esther (Miriam Toews) and his lover Marianne (Maria Pankratz), he openly confesses his adulterous behavior to his wife as he entertains thoughts of abandoning his family. In obvious pain, Johan sits alone at the kitchen table and weeps after Esther and the children have gone out following the morning ritual of breakfast and silent prayer, but his remorse does not prevent him from continuing to meet and have sex with Marianne. After Johan goes to a garage to pick up a crankshaft for his tractor, he tells his friend Zacarius (Jacobo Klassen) about his affair, then, when a familiar song comes on the radio, turns up the volume and sings along in an outburst of sudden joy while driving his truck in circles.
Later, he stops by his parent's farm to tell his father about his affair, explaining that he has told Esther about Marianne. His father, a preacher, hints that the devil may be responsible but also admits that he once also had an affair with a woman other than his mother. In one of the warmest scenes of the film, Johan and Esther take the children bathing in a nearby pond, a gesture of love that made his infidelity all the harder for Esther to bear. When they are driving alone in a ferocious rainstorm, she complains of chest pains and has to get out of the car and walk to a nearby tree, in obvious discomfort.
A long and quiet film, Silent Light, touches on some profound themes but keeps its emotional distance. Because there is little emphasis on religious beliefs or the real nature of his emotional and spiritual crisis, the film's final homage to Carl Dreyer is not placed in a context where it can achieve either radiance or power and comes off as a second hand copy. Yet though Silent Light doesn't quite overcome its inertia and reach the heights, its visual beauty is consoling and at times overwhelming. An exquisite six-minute tracking shot frames the film, an opening and closing sequence that attempts to connect our mundane lives to the ineffable beauty of the universe. As the illuminated stars slowly give way to sunlight and we are caressed by the ambient sounds of nature, we sense the light slowly beginning to illuminate our planet as we move into a new age, long forecasted in Hopi and Mayan tradition.
As a Mexican, I forget that this country is formed not only by cities'and country inhabitants. There is an almost infinite number of variables between those to macro worlds. A movie like this helps you remember how diverse and rich human race is, and that you are surrounded by so many different types of individuals, but it's just that you don't want to look carefully. This movie is really art cinema, and it was great for me watching this kind of production in a commercial location. From the moment of the initial sequence -that resembles the long scenes in Russian movies and theater- I knew that what I was about to witness was a display of delightful movie making. This one is definitely not for the average movie goer that wants to see explosions all over the place and easy to understand plots. No, definitely not. But If you are one of those, I strongly encourage you to see it, but do that with an open mind, knowing that it will be an extremely hard to digest film. And sometimes, you need to sacrifice something in order to enjoy the worthy things in life. And with the closing sequence, parallel to the opening one, I felt I paid to watch a real movie, and believe me, that does not happen often to me.
The six-minute opening shot of Silent Light depicts the starry night
sky giving way, slowly but relentlessly, to the nascent light of the
early morning sun. This shot could in itself serve as a captivating
short film but in its particular context it serves most obviously to
set the overall pace for this film by the Mexican director Carlos
The cast of Silent Light consists primarily of non-actors drawn from the Menonite religious community in which the film is set. Their fine performances create a believable and frequently captivating world for the viewer. We are given insights into the day-to-day lives of the family as the story slowly develops in stages, grimly charting the inexorable demise of the relationship between husband Johan and wife Esther.
Around the stark central narrative there are some charming scenes and some superb camera work. Even the scenes where the children playing in the pond are all-too-aware of the presence of the camera carry a certain fascination. Having said that there are too many shots where the camera lingers to seemingly little effect, except to make the viewer feel distinctly uncomfortable (as one other reviewer has pointed out, there is something rather unnerving about the kissing scene involving Johan and Marianne).
I also feel compelled to add that there is a rather bizarre twist at the end of what would otherwise be a straightforward and powerful story. For me this threw into some confusion the preceding two hours of film and left the story hanging on an oddly unsatisfactory note. Despite the slow pacing and somewhat bewildering ending this is a strong, distinctive piece of film-making and I would recommend that it be viewed in a cinema rather than on the small screen so as to get the best of some superb camera-work.
With Stellet Licht, Mexican director Carlos Reygadas follows a
different path from his previous films. Reygadas tells a very simple
and age-old story: the choice of a man between two women. However, it's
his unique vision of life what makes this film stand out from the
hundreds of films made with this subject matter.
A contained and wonderful Cornelio Wall delivers a range of feelings, resting almost entirely in his expressive eyes. His excellent performance fits perfectly with the quiet and slow pace of the film. The rest of the cast is also great, with really natural performances throughout the film.
The cinematography and editing are also gorgeous, developing an unique pace and look to the film that would have bored in any other film. While the pace of the film is extremely slow, the audience gets used to it, preventing boredom from affecting the viewers, as it normally occurs with other slowly-paced films.
The film happens in the secluded Menonite settlement of the beautiful state of Chihuahua, introducing us to a world completely different from ours, but the universal feeling of the story makes us realize that, regardless of the differences between different groups of people, we are all similar.
It is a very good film. This is contemplation cinema, with beautiful landscapes and really touching scenes. Although the argument isn't an innovative one, the context and the way the director captures its work empowers the story and succeeds in maintaining viewers attention despite the long shots that often makes the spectator to run out of patience, to get distracted or bored. Innovative context. The first movie about Mexican mennonites (40 000)in their own language (plautietsch)played by real mennonites that aren't real actors. It shows in an honest way their life style in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, how they live almost without interacting with Spanish speaking mexicans. Up to now, definitely Carlos Reygadas best film. I'm not saying that everybody would enjoy this film, but to me it is an excellent movie and I broadly recommend it. Its awards are richly deserved. "Stellet Licht" is a work of art.
There are two ways of making a movie genius. One way is you make it an
exciting storytelling, with lots of twists, surprises and well placed
moments of tension turned to gold by great acting and tasteful camera
angles and lighting.
The other way is this.
People will say this movie is boring. It is. They will say it drags itself. It does.
But while it does, it becomes painstakingly realistic. An average Joe doesn't spend his life fighting terrorists and being tossed around by the explosions he can't avoid, and while an average Joe can have a war land on his head or a ship sink under his feet, the really unlucky Joe will spend his life trying to make a living with no real chances of a worldwide tragedy turning him into a martyr or a hero.
"Stellet Licht" doesn't feed you the story. The key to deciphering this movie is that you must notice most shots are in a sort of "point of view" mode that keeps telling you "this could be you. What would you think right now? What would you do?".
And while it doesn't feed you everything, actions and dialogues, no matter how simple they sound at first are deeply meaningful and provide amazing food for thought. Marshall MacLuhan once described movies as "hot" media, demanding attention to find the meaning while leaving little space for your own participation as most is fed to you. A movie like "The Preadator" is hot; it doesn't immerse you as much as it attacks your senses of hearing and seeing.
In "Stellet Licht" while visuals and sound are of crucial importance in the beauty of the shots, the movie keeps a constant dialogue with the viewer and it's this viewer who ends up making a great part of the movie. This would be the definition of a "cool" media. In the end, everybody will have seen this movie differently and it will be a very intimate experience if only you lay the popcorn's aside and think about what is being shown to you.
Watch it with your significant other and you will realize there is so much to talk about, unlike with many other movies that leave you with trivialities and little more. So "Stellet Licht" is more than amazing story telling, it's what a dear friend of mine calls art: something that intertwines and confuses itself with real life.
If not for everybody, certainly not for those who expect a movie to spoon feed them and are not willing to incorporate and reinterpret the experience, but for those who are willing to think and discuss some of the strong subjects of this movie, "Stellet Licht" is a not just a movie, but an enlightening experience.
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