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Silent Light
Silent Light
Actors: Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews, Peter Wall, Jacobo Klassen
Director: Carlos Reygadas
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
UR     2009     2hr 16min

Johan is the head of a family in a Mennonite community in Northern Mexico. Against the law of God and man, he falls in love with another woman and although he is honest with his wife about the affiar, his actions create co...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews, Peter Wall, Jacobo Klassen
Director: Carlos Reygadas
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama
Studio: Vivendi Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 09/08/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2007
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2007
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 2hr 16min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: German

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Movie Reviews

Rhythms of nature and desire - a stunningly beautiful and au
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 07/04/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Johann has a problem. He has a wife and children who he loves, and another woman who loves him and who he can't stop thinking about. The Mennonite community in Mexico that is the backdrop for this story has a culture built on attempts to escape from the urgency of the clock, and pattern life according to a rhythm that respects nature and the sacred. But there are other urgencies that are hard to avoid.

Film critic Gilberto Perez (The Material Ghost), wrote that the best filmmakers are not satisfied with veneer or plausibility, but seek from reality "something richer and stranger, of more potency and consequence, but also, in that measure, harder to deal with coherently, more resistant to articulate arrangement." Reygadas is in my opinion one of those filmmakers whose work doesn't feel like it is trying to teach you something or to entertain you or to make you feel something specific, but who seeks with each film to discover something real. Not so much to tell a story as to let a story tell itself, to let human being and nature show itself in all its strangeness and wonder.

The opening scene of this film is among the most powerful I've seen. On the one hand it is unsettling and disorienting to be cast into the darkness of the open sky and twirled slowly with no sense of where we stand in space or time. On the other hand, this incredible opening shot serves to orient us as viewers. Before it is clear what is going on, that it is early morning and we are witnessing the emergence of light from the darkness, the sounds of crickets and a breeze and the groaning of the cattle begin to ground the film, to place what is to take place in and among the natural rhythms of the Earth.

The next image, however, serves to remind us that here on Earth we people tend to govern our lives according to a different scale than that which operates in nature, the rhythm of the sun and moon and stars, of day and night, of the seasons, of birth and growth and death. We pattern our lives after the artificial scales measured by the clock, by the calendar that tells us when to celebrate and the laws that tell us when to pay taxes, by the ordinances and regulations and habits and customs and prejudices that tell us when to get up when to go to work, how and when to follow our desires, how and with whom we can share our lives and feelings.

What impresses me about this film is that nothing seems contrived. Nothing seems to be there simply to be looked at, the camera does not feel like either a voyeur or a judge. A scene of intimacy is not there to arouse the viewer, or to create a sense of vicarious satisfaction -- like all real sex (not the fake sex that sells products or pornography), it is awkward and estranging to watch, the scene reminds us that sex is a strange thing, like all real sex it means something only for the participant. Once again, Gilberto Perez writes that the difficulty of engaging with the real in film is that "the closer the engagement with reality, the more difficult the task of giving it form and meaning ... [but] the risk of incoherence must be run, unruly reality met on a ground close enough to its own for its energies and its resistance to come into play. Only by contending with its resistance can a filmmaker derive from its energies, and arrange into expressive structures, a vividness and force that tell on the screen.".

By setting a familiar story into this unfamiliar world, that seems so different than the urban and suburban settings that at least in the movies tend to generate the boredom that results in infidelity, by setting this familiar story against such a rich natural backdrop, director Carlos Reygadas (Japon,Battle In Heaven) gives us insight into what strange and remarkable creatures we are, how we are at once very much animals with passions we cannot understand and how we work so hard to hide this from ourselves, that we must eat and drink and sleep and that our desires are not always compatible with our attempts to regulate desire and that we live and die according to forces we do not control and cannot predict.

The dvd includes a short feature on the making of the film, and some deleted scenes."
Basically Perfect.
Mark Twain | Florida, MO USA | 10/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Silent light is one of the most (if not the most) beautiful movies of the last 10 years. It has a certain grace, story, look, authenticity, and pureness that all make this film so unique and wonderful. This is a love story that is subtle, without melodramatic over acting, but the message is strong and vibrant. I can't really describe it in words very well, it's the kind of movie that really transports you to and makes you feel like you are there, really emphasizing on the characters and space. It makes you feel that the director REALLY knows what hes doing, and that he got it right. Technically there are some scenes that make you think, "how did they do that, that was amazing", or "that shot was awesome". It's a drama, yet there are some little funny moments because it feels so real, and just like real life, funny things happen even when were sad. If your looking for GOOD movie, that doesn't JUST entertain, then give this one a go! There is nothing else like it!"
Camera as intruder on a private world
O. Buxton | Highgate, UK | 01/07/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I was once in an art history tutorial when a fellow piped up and asked whether the three legged stool the Madonna was sitting on was symbolic of the Holy Trinity. I recall the tutor looking politely doubtful while the rest of the class fell about cackling unkindly at the poor try-hard. His crime: striving and over-reaching to see meaning in a purely incidental relationship. Well, maybe it was incidental - maybe he was right, who knows? - but I laughed all the same.

Nevertheless, his disposition would stand that chap in good stead should he ever chance upon Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light. This film admits of - requires, even - an over-reaching to see meaning, and as such will not be everyone's cup of tea. I'm still not sure whether it was mine.

To be sure, there is a certain sort of buff to whom Silent Light will appeal greatly - he who is rejoices in straining to unpick a film-maker's message will be in heaven: such industry is obligatory since Carlos Reygadas has opted to communicate his message in the most eliptical way. Reygadas is, you see, an auteur (a fact which will fill you with glee or despair, depending on the significance you see imbued in things like three legged stools).

In many places, the Meaning of Silent Light is to be found not in dialogue (there isn't much) nor its delivery (the actors - real Mennonites - aren't professionally trained, and frequently may as well be reading out technical manuals for all their performances convey) nor, really, in what happens in the film (in fairness, after a *very* slow build up, things do happen), but rather how it is *seen* to happen.

There is meaning, that is, in frame composition. It is significant that the camera itself is often visibly part of the film - not just in camera position and width of angle (though they are frequently telling) but in the existence of lens flare, in that the camera itself pushes long grass off screen when tracking a character at ankle level, that its lens is spattered by water cascading off a tree and when a wide-angled tracking shot noticeably fish-eyes the parallel horizontals of a building. In a more careless film maker, you'd assume these were continuity errors, or at the most purely incidental relationships. Not, I suspect, here. There is a long slow shot (indeed, there are hundreds of long slow shots, but one in particular) forward out the windscreen of Johan's pickup - itself doubling as a visible lens - as he drives down a dirt road. When he turns off the road, the truck pivots around the camera as if it is on a gyroscope, the camera continuing to point on its original bearing, only now pointing at the side of Johan's face. The effect is that the viewer cannot help but be aware that there is a movie camera sitting on the passenger seat in Johan's truck. Cinematography 101 would teach that first principle of filmmaking is to create quite the opposite impression.

Not here: The lens constantly intrudes, and when it doesn't we see through windows, through windshields, through ajar doors into private affairs. We are always aware we are intruding.

What to be drawn from this? We are conscious, always, of the aperture - that we are observers, voyeurs in an intensely private world (an extramarital love affair) inside an intensely private world (a devoutly religious family) inside an intensely private world (a Mennonite comunity) and, like the camera, we shouldn't be there.

Profound, I suppose, but I'm not sure what finally to draw from it. I feel much the same way about the film as a whole.

There's something clever about this, but it's too clever: self-consciously self-conscious, and tiring - divining which production artefacts bear messages and which do not is hard, and exhausting. In many places I gave up.

I didn't understand, for example, the significance of a momentarily lost child, discovered safe and sound and watching an old recording of a Jacques Brel TV special, in French, in a van. Why? And why a long dead Belgian folk-singer? Could a director who takes such care to speak via lens flares and camera angles have been so careless to throw in such a scene apropos nothing? And what to make of the end, wherein a studiously realist film suddenly goes surreal, apparently capable only of figurative interpretation?

Some high brow critics loved this film - the one through whose recommendation I came to be watching it, Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times, was so taken by its luminescence to declare it "the impossible made possible by grace and faith" - but for me it was too empty for that. Much has been read into the celebrated opening and closing shots but, again, I couldn't quite see the cleverness (and as you'll notice, I'm prepared to be as creative/fanciful as the next chap in my interpretation), and so let dusk fall not that much wiser than I'd been when daylight broke a couple of hours previously.

Olly Buxton"
Silent Light and Ordet's Light | New York | 09/09/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Michael Ondaatje once said that there is a limit to what films can do in getting below the surface of things. This might well be said of Silent Light. On first reflection it seems a mystery how this film, the third by Carlos Reygadas, actually manages to work some magic on the viewer without recourse to establishing conventional feelings for its characters. There is no script here which allows a way of rendering people in any depth whatsoever; dialogue is spare, relaying information in brief clusters of signifying words. "This is the last time... Peace -- is stronger than love... Poor Esther," a character says after lovemaking. The very fact that dialogue relays information stiltedly, instead of communicating in a more natural way, is a stylistic attenuation which doesn't build a convincing case for itself in the course of the film, though eventually a bare minimum of dialogue does enable us to discern the basic dilemma here: the issues a married man faces in keeping a mistress (or not) in a specific sectarian community.

On the other hand, within this sense of economy there is a vital sense of how light affects appearances -- all the varying qualities of light as that which in themselves might generate emotion. But that this happens to the extent which is fulfilling as an experience, as many critics seem to think, is questionable. Here, characters function as IMAGES of people -- rather than AS fully-dimensional people -- just as trees and landscapes function in most films as images of trees and landscapes, that is, without further requirements. There is a kind of purity resulting in all of this, and it's as if a mystery of the generic (not archetype) is revealed: as if each image appears as a pure template -- of itself: this IS the image of trees in a field at dusk, this IS the image of a woman sitting across from a man in a passenger seat of a car, this IS the image of a man alone at a table crying... There is a self-consciousness at play in the sensitivity of the cinematographic light, and thus a heightened sense of physical presence. And the performances by non-professionals are rendered in a way which recalls Bresson, but with a more pronounced distancing. Yet at the same time, and unlike Bresson, the characters just don't register as fully inhabiting a world.

Having said all that, I wonder what connection Mr. Reygadas estimated for his project with respect to Carl Theodor Dreyer's film Ordet, which appears the intentional factor in making his own, largely according to the conjunction of the same main event (a miracle) in both films. Silent Light is actually only a very slight homage to Ordet (shared miracle notwithstanding) for all the supposed similarities many critics have wished to concoct between the films. It seems hard to reasonably qualify Reygadas's re-approach to this "miracle of faith" (not to reveal it here), which one had no trouble accepting from Dreyer, who was a man of deeply religious sensibility -- a sensibility generally and notably absent in Reygadas, a crucial point which leaves the comparison of both men itself wanting.

A rather important omission in general from the critical assessments of the film, is the remembrance that in making Ordet, Dreyer did adapt a play -- through which the matter of revealing the inner states and spiritual conditions of the characters depend on words and the nuances of meaning in language; we are communicative, expressive beings (urban or rural), after all. One of Dreyer's supreme gifts was to compliment the emotional weave of the ongoing verbal exchange between characters with visual compositions and lighting, illuminating what was outside of the spoken. This perfectly complimentary method (one even more refined in his last film, Gertrud, also based on a play) -- between word and image -- exemplifies the interdependence out of which the meaning of his work arises.

In contrast, Reygadas favors the laconic approach of images over words, and has difficulty producing the same depth of total response from the viewer. If he did indeed intend to seek out the inner lives of his characters, albeit in a way apart from language, he hasn't achieved much more than a surface of imagistic mystique, wherein things tend to signify only themselves (as "templates") without deeper resonance. On balance, however, it is notable that there is a distancing due to the subtle stylistic effects one can feel even when watching Dreyer's film; a feeling of being at a remove from the events unfolding, even while one senses being suspended in a spiritual dimension, yet in the end, one which still somehow feels like *real* everyday life. This unusual effect also seems to be present in Silent Light.

Interestingly, when the miracle of the former film appears here, it is not a moving event in and of itself; and yet paradoxically, it effectively becomes such -- due to the exquisitely clear, lucid visual presentation: the transference, of the technical qualities of modulated light, upon subjects, into a "miraculous appearance," is total. The face of the smiling or crying one is the the face illuminated and transfigured by this light -- the entire process of which is ostensibly the real subject of Reygadas's film.

But in Dreyer's cinema, the mutually dependent transference of meaning between words and images makes for a more deeply satisfying experience, far beyond mere technical control of the medium. Next to Ordet, Silent Light will seem ever more slight the more critics try to inflate tenuous connections between the two. One is even tempted to apply Mahler's dictum that "interesting is easy, beautiful is difficult." Apropos of the ravishing images Reygadas conjures, however, one might go further here and say that the beautiful truly appears easy, but nonetheless a deeper, more rewarding interest lies elsewhere."