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Silent Light

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I'm very excited about this film! Premiered recently at Cannes, it sounds as troubling and confounding as several of the most significant films on the A&F 100 - both BREAKING THE WAVES and ORDET are referenced in reviews. Praying it comes to the VIFF!

Carlos Reygadas: SILENT LIGHT

review by Jonathan Romney

I felt deeply antipathetic to Reygada

Edited by Ron

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Link to a blog post of mine where I quote part of a Globe & Mail story on Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who plays one of the Mennonites in this film. (You need a subscription to read the original story now.)

Links to reviews by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

The trailer:

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Thanks, Peter. Great stuff!

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Thanks for the heads up - hope I've not missed it already!

Matt

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J. Robert Parks gives it 4.5 out of 5:

Instead of the provocations of Battle in Heaven, Silent Light reveals the maturity of a growing filmmaker confident that he can communicate without all the noise . . . An opening sequence is a spectacular shot from the stars through pre-dawn darkness to a sun rising over the hills through the trees. That focus on elemental nature continues throughout the film -- one amazingly beautiful sequence involves a family swimming in a river -- and is more than a little reminiscent of Tarkovsky . . .

Focusing on elemental (there's that word again) themes of love and faith, family and sex, Reygadas uses simple but spectacular widescreen compositions, often shooting from below to create iconic images. One incredible landscape shot from the top of a hill cuts to a close up of a man's feet walking through wildflowers. Describing it can't do justice to what Reygadas does with light and composition; it's just awesome. Even banal tasks like harvesting corn or saying grace at a table become something transcendent in his hands. And the influence of Carl Dreyer in the theme of faith is beautifully acknowledged. Fans of Reygadas's earlier work might find this too simple, but that aspect really worked for me. And since I'm starting to sound like a gushing fanboy, I'll stop, though I hope to revisit this when I've had a chance to think about it more.

Victor Morton gives it 9 out of 10:

What is so special about the incredible opening shot, which some of my buds say is among the most beautiful in movie history? It's not simply some "inherent beauty of nature" (I would not have been impressed by that), but the fact that the sunrise actually happens before our very eyes (though time lapse is used) and that Reygadas takes the time to show the light change the world, or actually creating our experience of it. And there's real drama -- what gets revealed to us as the shot continues. As in Genesis 1, in the beginning, the movie screen was a void. Then there were the stars. Then there was the light. Then there was a cosmic shape. Then there was nature per se [trees, hills]. Then there was nature as shaped by man [farms, crops]. Now that the natural world is fully revealed -- cut to a home on a street [i.e., to man as fully civilized]. Yes, it's a very lengthy shot but (1) we see the universe happen within it and (2) its length and slowness prepares us, trains us, for what follows. SILENT LIGHT is, in almost every conceivable way, paced slowly but precisely for that reason is deeply moving. The father in a Germanic Mennonite family in Mexico is having an affair but his religious conscience (he has seven children) will not let him at ease. This milieu makes the Official Art-House Style seem more like a natural fact. The people in this semi-separated religious community (they're not isolated, like the Amish; they drive trucks, etc.) do speak slowly, do pause between sentences, never talk over one another, never engage in idle chat, etc. And so even such elements of Reygadas style as long takes and slow camera movements seem more like a reflection of this world than an imposed authorial contrivance. Simple. Beautiful. Perfect.

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Hardscrabble ecstasy

We're just past the midpoint at this year's CIFF, but already it's hard to imagine anything topping Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light (Stellet Licht) for sheer ecstatic impact. Which almost seems paradoxical, since the movie's default emotional setting never rises above stone-cold sober. . . . Silent Light plays twice more at the fest (Fri 10/12 and Tue 10/16, both at odd times), and when we'll see it in town next is anybody's guess. As of right now, no U.S. distribution's been planned (though Tartan Films does have foreign rights), so all we can do is keep our fingers crossed.

Pat Graham, Chicago Reader Blogs: On Film, October 11

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It'll be showing at the AFI Fest in L.A. in November. 11/7 @ 7:15p ($11), 11/9 @ 3:30p ($7)

I was sort of excited about the $7 option, but it's the afternoon of press day for Diving Bell/Butterfly.

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Caught this at AFI, and it's every bit as beautiful as reviewers have described. But its slowness struck me as slightly meretricious, its ending apish in the most respectful possible way.

Without a doubt, a subject for further research.

Edited by Nathaniel

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Ariels shine on 'Silent Light'

Helmer-scribe Carlos Reygadas' tale of love and betrayal "Silent Light" took home five Golden Ariels including best picture, director and screenplay at the Mexican Film Academy Awards on Tuesday night.

Winner of the 2007 Cannes Jury Prize, "Silent Light" depicts the little-known world of Mennonites settled in northern Mexico and a father who risks losing his family and community to follow his heart. . . .

Variety, March 26

- - -

So weird to hear it called "the little-known world of Mennonites settled in northern Mexico". My own family (i.e. my mother and her siblings) came from Paraguay, not Mexico, but friends of mine have either come from Mexico or had family there, so it doesn't feel all THAT remote, to me.

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Coming to the VanCity Theatre June 5-12.

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"Silent Light" depicts the little-known world of Mennonites settled in northern Mexico and a father who risks losing his family and community to follow his heart. . . .

This film is my top choice to see at FilmFest DC, but that description gives me pause.

Can anyone who's seen the film hint at the outcome of the husband's decision, or will that ruin the film? I can envision an Ordet-like miraculous scenario or something approaching it, which would probably inspire me, or a Million Dollar Baby-style disappointment in which the characters all make dark choices that are supposedly true to the characters (although I always rejected that assertion about MDB). I also think of that Woody Allen movie -- "the heart wants what the heart wants" -- which I thoroughly despised. (Although Peter liked it.)

This film most likely falls between those two extremes, but I'm just not eager to sit through a film that possibly vindicates immorality. (BTW, I hated Breaking the Waves, although I may be prepared, many years after seeing it, to watch it again and reconsider.)

Oh, heck. That review Ron posted has me sold. But maybe those of you who know my continuing limitations with material that gives an divine imprimatur to acts that are traditionally considered immoral can help me out. You can PM me if you're uncomfortable posting here. Thanks.

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Christian wrote:

: I also think of that Woody Allen movie -- "the heart wants what the heart wants" -- which I thoroughly despised. (Although Peter liked it.)

Which film is that? The only time Allen has spoken that line, that I'm aware of, was in an interview with Time magazine when he broke up with Mia Farrow. I can't recall any of his films actually using that line, per se.

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Christian wrote:

: I also think of that Woody Allen movie -- "the heart wants what the heart wants" -- which I thoroughly despised. (Although Peter liked it.)

Which film is that? The only time Allen has spoken that line, that I'm aware of, was in an interview with Time magazine when he broke up with Mia Farrow. I can't recall any of his films actually using that line, per se.

I was thinking of Deconstructing Harry. Doesn't he say it toward the end? If not, my apologies.

EDIT: Just looked for the quote and can't find any record of it from this movie. Anyway, the attitude bothers me, so -- back to my original question -- does Silent Light validate such a view?

Edited by Christian

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I did hear offline from someone about this film, and I appreciate the feedback. I'm not sure what I'm in for, but I've purchased a ticket to Saturday night's show.

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Ron, the battle for my best film of 2008 is over. You can attribute the designated number of points to Silent Light now, if that'll help you get a head start on the year-end list. ;)

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Ron, the battle for my best film of 2008 is over. You can attribute the designated number of points to Silent Light now, if that'll help you get a head start on the year-end list. ;)

Duly noted. And who knows, a month and a half from now, I may be able to render a similar verdict of my own!

Edited by Ron

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FWIW, Victor Morton saw Silent Light a second time yesterday and upgraded his rating from 9/10 to 10/10.

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Saw it this morning. Trying to decide if the Dreyer fans here will love this film for its kindred spirit or scorn it for its derivativeness. (I'm not saying it IS derivative, I'm just saying that if one WERE to scorn the film, that would be one of the probable accusations.)

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Saw it this morning. Trying to decide if the Dreyer fans here will love this film for its kindred spirit or scorn it for its derivativeness. (I'm not saying it IS derivative, I'm just saying that if one WERE to scorn the film, that would be one of the probable accusations.)

I don't know that it's derivativeness so much as lack of clear thematic context that troubles Dreyer fans. I count myself as one, of course, but am not troubled by the film, probably because I still haven't read anything that explains it to me. Lacking a clear idea of what the film's conclusion represents allows me to appreciate the movie for its raw power, of which it has much.

What did you think of the purpose of

Marianne's character

? That's the key question. Maybe I'm overlooking something obvious.

You can PM me if you'd prefer. Otherwise, there will be a lot of "spoiler" bars from here on out in the discussion.

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Christian wrote:

: What did you think of the purpose of

Marianne's character

? That's the key question. Maybe I'm overlooking something obvious.

Before I say anything else, I must first say that I am very annoyed, once again, by the fact that there are subtitles for everything in this film BUT the songs that certain people sing. That happens with far too many films of this sort. There are at least three significant musical moments in this film -- the one in the truck, the close-up on the TV, and the communal singing near the end -- and NOT ONE LYRIC was subtitled, even though (it seemed clear to me) the songs being sung at those points must have served some sort of thematic purpose.

Anyway.

A recurring theme in this film, I think, is the way people say they feel like they are "a part of the world" when things are going right, when they are happy, etc. The film is full of natural sights and sounds -- the footsteps trudging through the grass or snow, the loud wind sweeping past as a man and woman kiss, the sound of water splashing in a shower or a pool, a flower in the background coming into focus after (if I recall correctly) a man and/or woman leave the frame, an

expertly calibrated intake of breath

, etc. -- and for what it's worth, in that light, it may be significant that John or Zacarias refers to Marianne as John's "natural woman". But does that play-on-words (nature/natural) work in the original language, too? I don't know. But I do know that I am wondering where that "cedar leaf" came from, or what the appearance of an insect at a certain point in the film is supposed to signify, etc., etc.

Incidentally, in addition to Dreyer, I also found myself thinking of Lars von Trier, especially during an early shot where we can see the filmmakers in a window's reflection. The camera is static, behind Esther's back -- so they should have been able to spot this in the set-up -- and as the children pass by behind Esther, we can see a crew member waving the children to move along. Is that an accident? Is it deliberate? Either way, it reminded me of a filmmakers'-reflection-in-the-window shot in von Trier's The Idiots -- and the TIFF write-up on this film (which includes some serious spoiler material, so I won't link to it) also draws our attention to the way actors occasionally look at the camera (especially where the children are concerned, I think), so there may actually be an INTENTION on the filmmakers' part to make us aware of the "movieness" of the movie. And yet I don't think the film is simply saying "this is just a movie". I think it's allowing us to conceive of this film as something more, not less, than a purely naturalistic documentary-style drama. There are cracks in the facade, but hopefully, they are there to open us up to something deeper.

What that something IS, though, I am still figuring out.

Oh, and the opening sunrise shot is beautiful, dramatic, and even has a few unexpected twists -- literally! The way the camera rotates and alters our perspective reminded me of Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, of all things -- which is a very unfortunate association, since the two films have NOTHING else in common, and the camera rotation here is much more leisurely paced and designed to provoke awe rather than dizziness. But I can't think of any other film that has begun in such an interesting fashion.

: You can PM me if you'd prefer. Otherwise, there will be a lot of "spoiler" bars from here on out in the discussion.

I can handle the bars. I'm hoping we aren't the only two who have seen, or will see, this movie. :)

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I'm with you, Christian. My top film of the year, no contest.

As well, no question at all in my mind that this belongs solidly in the A&F 100.

Believe it or not, I had never seen ORDET. So I watched it this afternoon, finished about an hour before the projector started rolling for the first of the evening showings of SILENT LIGHT. Can you imagine, seeing those two back to back? There won't be many double bills like that in a lifetime of movie-going!

Many more thoughts, but I need to head for bed.

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SpoutBlog points to this take on the film, which wrestles with the film in a way that parallels some of my own reaction to the film:

In literal terms, of course, heaven is just the glorious skies of the northern Mexican countryside, and its weight is simply the conscience of the characters who move stoically against them. But there seems to be some sort of divinity present in both, and to say that it is merely a trick of the camera isn

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: The story itself initially seems an archetypal one, whose opening sequence, in which the camera tracks across a field of stars before coming to rest in a field as the sun rises, positions it on a nearly mythical plateau; it captures the opening of Genesis in a single bravura shot.

It doesn't merely "track" -- it pivots, it changes perspective, it keeps you guessing. There was one point where I was convinced we were looking at some treetops against the backdrop of the stars. Then the camera pivoted and what used to be tree TOPS became the SIDES of the trees.

And I couldn't believe that that opening sequence was over as soon as it was. Six minutes, they say? Wow, I was riveted to the screen the whole time -- there was so much going on, even though nothing was going on -- and I can't imagine anyone finding this sequence slow. But apparently some do. Oh well.

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Peter, what did you think of this?

Adultery is forbidden in the Mennonite faith; so too is divorce. The Mennonites represent a denomination of Christianity that originated in Central Europe and has since been disseminated in tiny groups across the globe. Their practice is an austere but gentle one; they live simple, agrarian lives. Their devotion to Christ is tempered in nonviolence, pacifism and the virtue of reconciliation, and it is out of these tenets, rather than the complications of plot, that the narrative of Silent Light emerges.

The first sentence is a "duh!" moment, and it made me wonder if the writer anywhere close to a firm grasp of the Mennonites. You were raised anabaptist, right? Any comments on the writer's take here?

Edited by Christian

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Christian wrote:

: The first sentence is a "duh!" moment, and it made me wonder if the writer anywhere close to a firm grasp of the Mennonites. You were raised anabaptist, right? Any comments on the writer's take here?

It all sounds good, to me. The bit about "simple, agrarian lives" is just a tad out-of-date, considering how urban and suburban most of my relatives are :) but my mother and grandmother both grew up on farms and worked on farms, and an uncle of mine still has a farm in Paraguay, so it rings true enough.

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