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Silent Light


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#1 Ron Reed

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 12:13 AM

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!

QUOTE
Carlos Reygadas: SILENT LIGHT
review by Jonathan Romney

I felt deeply antipathetic to Reygada’s first film JAPON but was bowled over by his follow-up BATTLE IN HEAVEN, a success de scandale when it played in Cannes two years ago. In SILENT LIGHT he abandons his first two films’ sometimes calculated outrage quotient and goes for something deeper and more delicate. After the hothouse Catholic iconography of BATTLE IN HEAVEN he’ss still on a religious tack: his third feature is set within an austere Mennonite community in Chihuahua, northern Mexico. The community sepaks Plautdietsch, a German dialect related to medieval Dutch, and this, along with a smattering of Spanish, is the language of the film.

The protagonist is Mennonite farmer Johan (Cornelio Wall), a husband and father who, contrary to the laws of his community, falls for another woman. He views this new attachment not with shame but with joy and eagerness: he truly believes that his passion for ice-cream seller Mariane (Maria Pankratz) is part of the fate determined for him by God. Johan vows to give her up... (SPOILERS EDITED)

In its severe, contemplative way, SILENT LIGHT challenges you to take seriously certain highly unfashionable propositions about grace and divine intervention: in that sense it’s not dissimilar to BREAKING THE WAVES, by that other Dreyer acolyte Lars von Trier, but in a much more serious register. ...

The film opens with what is arguably the single most remarkable shot in Cannes this year. ...

Much of SILENT LIGHT consists of scenes of Mennonite life that lend it an ethnographic documentary feel: Johan’s family praying at breakfast, his solemn children bathing in a pool, tender rituals such as the assaging of feet or the combing of... (his wife) Esther’s hair. ...

SILENT LIGHT is one of the more mature and thoughtful recent films about adultery... The film also makes clear the intensity of the sexual passion involved: here is a rare work that treats middle-aged sex between ordinary-looking people seriously, and photographs it beautifully. The camera plays subtly on the facial likeness between Esther and Marianne and on the facial likeness between Johan and his father, who are father and son in real life and both members, like many of the cast, of Chihuahua’s Mennonite community.

You can’t help wondering what it means for a Mennonite man to play a character caught in the throes of an extra-marital romance and what understanding Reygadas had with the community and with individual participants. But you no longer get the impression – deeply troubling in both JAPON and BATTLE IN HEAVEN – that the director is exploiting his non-professional actors, In this film there’s a contemplative sensitivity in the way he studies their faces and bodies that makes for a sensuous and compassionate experience. The ending could be as much a bone of contention as the notorious final shot (pious or ironic?) of BREAKING THE WAVES, but even if you can’t buy into the religious dimension of SILENT LIGHT, it’s hard to remain unmoved – not least by the exalting spectacle of a promising director making the transition to true mastery.

Sight & Sound, July 2007

Edited by Ron, 03 August 2007 - 01:07 AM.


#2 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 12:53 AM

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:



#3 Ron Reed

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 01:22 AM

Thanks, Peter. Great stuff!


#4 MattPage

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 04:04 AM

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

Matt

#5 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 13 September 2007 - 01:14 AM

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.


#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 02:21 AM

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

#7 Darrel Manson

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Posted 12 October 2007 - 10:40 AM

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.

#8 Nathaniel

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Posted 24 November 2007 - 10:10 PM

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, 24 November 2007 - 10:11 PM.


#9 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 March 2008 - 02:01 AM

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.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 04:02 AM

Coming to the VanCity Theatre June 5-12.

#11 Christian

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 10:37 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Mar 27 2008, 03:01 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
"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.

#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 09 April 2008 - 06:53 PM

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.

#13 Christian

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Posted 10 April 2008 - 09:26 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ Apr 9 2008, 07:53 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
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, 10 April 2008 - 10:32 AM.


#14 Christian

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 12:40 PM

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.

#15 Christian

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Posted 27 April 2008 - 12:24 AM

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. wink.gif

#16 Ron Reed

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 10:40 AM

QUOTE (Christian @ Apr 26 2008, 10:24 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
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. wink.gif

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, 28 April 2008 - 10:40 AM.


#17 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 April 2008 - 12:40 PM

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

#18 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 May 2008 - 10:01 PM

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.)

#19 Christian

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 11:41 AM

QUOTE (Peter T Chattaway @ May 22 2008, 10:01 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
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.

#20 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 23 May 2008 - 11:52 PM

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. smile.gif