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Silent Light


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#41 Christian

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Posted 28 November 2008 - 04:20 PM

I consider Silent Light ineligible for year-end voting this year, because its one-week run at MoMA wasn't exactly a theatrical release. Now, however, I've just learned that the film's distributor has booked it into Film Forum for a one-week run -- next year. So bear with me for another year of blabbing about this film, and reminding people to vote for it ... in 2009.

#42 Overstreet

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 05:43 PM

I just purchased this film from Amazon Canada.

I've got to see it before I close out my '08 list!

Edited by Overstreet, 08 December 2008 - 06:02 PM.


#43 M. Leary

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 06:01 PM

I look forward to rehashing this discussion. I noted on your status that I think, as a fellow fan of both The New World and Shotgun Stories, you will find much to relish in Silent Light.

#44 Overstreet

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 06:03 PM

Christian, does the accessibility of the DVD change your mind about voting for it in 2008? Or would it require an American DVD release?

#45 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 07:46 PM

Hmmm. Canada, like the United States, is Region 1. So in theory, it would be eminently possible for Netflix or some such rental service to buy the Canadian DVD and make it available to their American subscribers. Have they, in fact, done that? Or are they somehow limited to American discs only?

#46 Overstreet

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Posted 18 December 2008 - 11:31 PM

Hmmmm.

It's beautiful, no doubt about it.

But it also feels too deliberate.

Yes, Reygadas's wide-eyed, basking in the glory of nature and capturing some glorious light. The opening and closing shots are reason enough to see the film. But beyond those beautiful long shots, only a few scenes really drew me in: The children swimming, the rainstorm drive, and a quiet exchange between daughter and mother late in the film.

As a visual artist, he's got a powerful sense of composition. I was reminded, at times, of Tarkovsky (The Sacrifice), of Ozu and Bresson (emphasis on windows, doors, vertical lines), of Malick, of course... with those heavens declaring the glory of God so loudly that your ears will ring. And above all, Dreyer's Ordet. And the sound design was exciting... clocks, rain, and that haunting wildlife (All creation groans!) The sounds reminded me a bit of how Ceylan's uses sound... and uses long silences to accentuate them.

But when Malick captures the light, he's drawn into it with some kind of enthusiasm and spirit. The camera here felt too calculated, too overly controlled. There was not any room for surprise in this film, nothing that didn't seem carefully directed to within an inch of its life. Ordet is very, very formal, but it does have room for humor. With the exception of the scenes with children, Silent Light seems relentlessly severe.

And the homage to Ordet is so obvious that the resemblance became too distracting, taking me out of the moment that is supposed to be the most exciting.


I agree with Peter... I want the lyrics to the songs that are so prominent in the film. I feel like I'm missing out on profound aspects of this film until I get hold of those words. Especially the televised performance. (Who was that?)

I expect the movie will grow on me with repeated viewings, and it's easily among my favorites of the year. An art film that works too hard is still better than a film that isn't artful.

But I guess it just felt too studied, too self-consciously ART FILM for me. I had a similar feeling about Ceylan's Climates... I had no trouble entering into, and living within, Ceylan's Distant, which felt like the Real World. Climates felt too posed, too ponderous, much like what keeps me at a distance from some of Bergman's work.

But the light.

Oh, the light!!

Edited by Overstreet, 18 December 2008 - 11:39 PM.


#47 vjmorton

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 12:41 AM

QUOTE (Overstreet @ Dec 18 2008, 11:31 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I agree with Peter... I want the lyrics to the songs that are so prominent in the film. I feel like I'm missing out on profound aspects of this film until I get hold of those words. Especially the televised performance. (Who was that?)


I actually asked Reygadas this question myself, during the Q-and-A at the 2007 Toronto fest.

His answer was that he deliberately left out the lyrics to the songs because, he said, they were pre-existing material that he chose for their style and mood, and not for the actual content of the lyrics. Close as I can recall, he said, "if you put the lyrics on the screen, the audience has a tendency to think that they matter, that they're the key to some mystery. I just wanted the feeling in the moment."

The televised performer was Jacques Brel, a French cabaret comedian-singer whom Reygadas said, if I recall correctly (and I'm obviously not certain, hence this parenthetical), is generally popular in Mexico.

Edited by vjmorton, 19 December 2008 - 12:42 AM.


#48 M. Leary

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Posted 19 December 2008 - 01:23 AM

QUOTE (Overstreet @ Dec 19 2008, 01:31 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
But it also feels too deliberate.


I need to think about how to respond to this more fully, but it is one of the aspects of the film that I like quite a bit. I like the way this deliberation exteriorizes Johan's dislocation from his wife and family. He himself isn't really connected to anything throughout the course of the film, except his mistress - a scene which finds the camera much tighter and more personal. Johan is stuck on this idea that his circumstances are determined, and the film corresponds to this pattern in his thinking.

I also like the way it sets up nature as something very distinct, and even indifferent, to the people dwelling in it. Reygadas does the opposite of what Malick does with "the land" and "dwelling" in that, excepting the few edenic moments, nature is ultimately a hostile aspect of the film. Note the role it plays in the narrative as well (the awful rain). I think what happens in the final scene is that this tension between man and nature, as depicted in the story of Johan and his theological struggle, is finally overcome. Reygadas actually ratchets up a certain tension through his deliberation that is finally cut by something totally unexpected, something totally outside of the confines of anything naturally deliberate. So the deliberate cinematography is a formal device, but in a narrative way.

And I think what runs against the grain of the deliberation is how naturally all these biblical allusions arise from the storyline. The story of the film really is quite organic, and provides a lot of space for us to muse on the theological and biblical scope of Johan's predicament. The final allusion may be heavy-handed, but it is an incredible context to draw from. This may be why the bathing scene is so effective, as it is a point in the film where the freedom of its storyline and a less deliberate direction on Reygada's part converge. But, of course it can't last, as Johan's predicament won't allow it to.

Edited by MLeary, 19 December 2008 - 01:25 AM.


#49 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 January 2009 - 12:07 AM

Vadim Rizov:
It's not just flash: seasons change with alarming, Synecdoche rapidity here, and no one seems to notice. There's two possibilities: either time is passing far more quickly than the narrative indicates, or nature's out of whack. I vote the latter, because Reygadas — lip-service to the Mennonites' faith aside — seems to be operating in a firmly pagan register, which is at the very least consistent with Japon's grimy immersion into shithole nature. Esther describes the shift from a happy marriage to her knowledge of Johan's adultery as the change from "the pure feeling of being part of the world. Now I feel apart from it." Johan's adultery throws the natural world out of wack. But Reygadas seems to disregard that: after Johan and Marianne have sex for the last time, a tiny leaf falls from the ceiling. That could also be nature once more registering how wrong things have gone, but the couple seem quite pleased: it's a tiny little absolution, natural grace in action.
I don't think it's necessarily "pagan" to suggest that nature has gone out of wack because of a man and woman's sin. In fact, that fits quite nicely with the Edenic nature of the famous opening shot, with the camera pushing between the two trees and so on.

#50 Christian

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Posted 17 January 2009 - 10:29 AM

Andrew O'Hehir's review was posted several days ago, but I saw it only this morning. Good review, although I don't agree with this statement:

There's no explicit sex at all.

Maybe not compared to the director's earlier films (which I haven't seen), but there are a couple of sex scenes in this film, one in shadows, but another that's a bit more graphic toward the end.

Read the whole review. It starts about halfway down the linked page.

Edited by Christian, 17 January 2009 - 01:30 PM.


#51 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 17 January 2009 - 12:52 PM

Ah, the difference between mainstream and "Christian" vocabularies. By "explicit", I assume O'Hehir means hardcore penetration shots and the like. Whereas when Christians use the term, it can mean anything as simple as mere nudity.

#52 M. Leary

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Posted 19 January 2009 - 10:44 AM

QUOTE (Christian @ Jan 17 2009, 11:29 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Maybe not compared to the director's earlier films (which I haven't seen), but there are a couple of sex scenes in this film, one in shadows, but another that's a bit more graphic toward the end.


And I found this latter scene intensely explicit because of the way Reygadas had contained so much emotion in other scenes up to this point. It is a very minimalist scene, but there is something outrageously lascivious about it, emboldened by that fluttering leaf that holds so many potential allusions to the end of Eden. I was so startled by the range of Johan's emotions in this scene. This is the way I want sex scenes to look like, all their shock value embedded in narrative and allusion rather than image.

#53 Christian

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Posted 24 January 2009 - 08:09 PM

Ninety-something-year-old Stannley Kauffman writes beautifully about Silent Light.

#54 MattPage

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 05:30 AM

Caught this on DVD yesterday, so obliviously the images weren't quite what they were. I loved though, that is right up until the final scene. I don't know whether this is because I read the first part of the thread a while ago and sub-consciously remembered the Ordet references. But whether it was because of that or just the visual similarities between the scenes, as soon as we see the shot of Esther in her casket I knew she was coming back to life. So I feel a bit disappointed.

Having said that, and reflected on it overnight, I'm not sure whether my disappointment flows from feeling that the film just doesn't earn it's conclusion. I love Ordet's ending, but would have preferred it if this film hadn't ended the way it does. It just feels a bit tagged on.

Perhaps it's all to do with the imagery, as Mike has talked about the Biblical reflections of creation, fall, flood, judgement etc, perhaps this is just a representation of the resurrection of humanity on the last day.

FWIW though, can I humbly request that all those who mentioned Ordet in the preceding posts go an put spoiler tags around them. I genuinely thought I was going into this film knowing almost nothing about it - Mel and I kept having the conversation where she asked what it was about and I stammered something about Mennonites, and genuinely thought that was all I knew - other than that it was highly rated by a bunch of people I know I can trust.

It's possible that Reygadas' style in this film is all about giving the game away. There were a few times that static shots telegraphed what was to happen in a moment or two. For example there was one shot of a door late on, with a women sat either side of it. The horizontal symmetry was perfect, but also vertically we only saw the top of the women's heads, and ,given the perfect compositions throughout the film it suggested that the shot was actually their for the people that were about to walk through the door (in then perfect composition). Perhaps the point of the raised from the dead moment was that the visual similarities to Ordet were meant to give the game away.

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#55 Stephen Lamb

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Posted 09 March 2009 - 12:07 AM

I caught this earlier today here in Nashville, a wonderful way to spend the afternoon on my birthday. The art-house theatre here, The Belcourt, was playing it for only 4 days, for some reason, the first time that I know they've only had a film for a couple days. I was blown away. Intro Great Silence was #3 on my top ten list for 2008, so it should be no surprise that I loved the pacing of this film as well. A couple comments below.

QUOTE (Christian @ Jun 12 2008, 03:43 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
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:

Thus, we can accept Johan’s torment without question, understand that Esther will find out about the affair without unnecessary suspense or melodrama, and instead focus in on the first thing that Esther says after making the discovery: “Poor Marianne.” Her selflessness, required of her by her faith, places the weight of the situation on the other woman, the sinner. She’s relying on her faith to bear her burden.


Actually, "poor Marianne" is not the first thing Esther says. And it's also not when she discovers the affair, but when she is told about another instance of betrayal. Her first words are "F***ing whore." Followed shortly by "poor Marianne."


What has stayed on my mind as I'm mulling over the film tonight is Esther's statement, "poor Marianne." (I'll put this in spoiler tags, just in case.) Earlier in the film, when Johan sleeps with Marianne for the second time - when he has his younger children with him - after Marianne gets out of bed and is getting dressed, she says, "poor Esther." And at the end, while talking to her little girl, maybe even while Marianne is still in the room (I can't remember, but I think she was already gone), Esther says, "poor Johan." FWIW.




#56 Winston

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 09:21 AM

I too caught the film in Nashville over the weekend, on a ragged looking 35mm print that was all the more beautiful for its agedness.

Because I've never seen Ordet, I didn't have that frame of reference for the film. What I did keep coming back to was something that Flannery O'Connor said about her fiction; it was her job to be so aware of the natural that the supernatural could not help but come through.

As everyone here has already mentioned, this is the case with this film. From its title and opening shot all the way through; this is a film that is so aware of nature that it can't help but explore that which lies beyond nature. The opening shot did this; but time and again it happens as well, with the pink flower that slowly comes into focus, the constant presence of the sky most outdoor shots (due to the low placement of the camera), and the framing of shots so that nature is what we take in before we see people.

I wouldn't have liked the film at all without the ending; it is the moment of grace, the one thing that can't happen (as Marianne says) is what happens.


And off topic from all other discussion; Whoever said that the film is open on the thematic level is right; it was honestly refreshing to watch a film that had Biblical imagery and approached faith as an assumed part of life, but allowed me to meditate on the film and understand the power of the story, not simply to hear a sermon.

I couldn't help but laughingly compare the other film about faith and marriage from last year as I fell asleep last night, and be glad that of the two I've only seen Silent Light.

#57 M. Leary

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Posted 10 March 2009 - 12:58 PM

QUOTE (MattPage @ Mar 6 2009, 06:30 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Perhaps it's all to do with the imagery, as Mike has talked about the Biblical reflections of creation, fall, flood, judgement etc, perhaps this is just a representation of the resurrection of humanity on the last day.


I can actually understand why you feel a bit let down by the conclusion. Even though there are a great many intentional formal and thematic parallels, Ordet comes from a much different place than Silent Light. The person who made Ordet could not have made Reygadas' previous film, Battle in Heaven. But I can see how a person who made a film like Battle in Heaven, which is so invested in the desperate and regressive ways in which people physically relate, would be interested in crowning Johan's struggle with an Ordet-like moment. It is such a vigorous shorthand for the kind of redemption of physical reality that film is ultimately about. And I think this is what Reygadas is ultimately consumed by. I don't think the Ordet reference has such a fine point on it that we can say it is about resurrection in general. It is actually about resurrection in a specific narrative sense, one which has connections to the other biblical references in the film, but also to us as viewers that have long been steeped in Ordet's genius. It all gets pretty meta, almost too meta. But he pulls it off.

It is actually a very carnal, obscene film that is channeled by easily recognizable biblical images, and then resolved in the king of all biblical cinematic images in the Ordet reference. If it weren't for all these biblical references, Silent Light would be tawdry and offensive (just like Battle in Heaven). All the language about forgiveness would have no ground in which to take root. But that last image is Reygadas' humble attempt at bringing this great biblical cycle to a close in a way consistent with the narrative/formal brilliance of the rest of the film without going so far as to re-invent the wheel. It is a gesture more faithful to cinema history than any biblical or theological impulse.


#58 Christian

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Posted 22 March 2009 - 02:29 PM

Now playing in Chicago, through April 2.

Stef's not there any longer. Do we have any other A&Fers in the Chicago area who might be able to catch this film?

#59 MattPage

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Posted 24 March 2009 - 11:39 AM

Heck they used to have their own sub-group

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#60 Christian

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 09:43 PM

bump