Silent Light (Stellet Licht)
- Kaleem Aftab
- 29 November 2007
To mention Carlos Reygadas’ winsome Silent Light in the same breath as key directors Carl Theodor Dreyer, Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson, and the more recent Bruno Dumont is not hyperbole. The six-minute opening shot of a sunrise may sound like cinematic folly, but cinematographer Alexis Zabe (Duck Season, Child’s Play) has created a beautiful sequence that would not be out of place in the Louvre.
This striking opening also effortlessly transplants the audience from the travails of modern life into the state of Chihuahua in Mexico where a community of Mennonites resides. Reygadas, as ever, refuses to spoonfeed the audience: the only clue that the characters are Mennonites is in the fact that they speak Plautdietsch, while only the press notes confirm that the action takes place in Chihuahua.
The sparse plot involves Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), a father of seven, who comes to the conclusion that local ice cream vendor Marianne (Maria Pankratz) may be the love of his life rather than his wife Esther (Miriam Toews). The use of long shots, an atemporal timeframe, limited dialogue, and blank-faced non-actors is purposely challenging, highlighting the need to interpret events on a moral and spiritual level. Film buffs will recognise that the central exploration of what is acceptable human behaviour, is lifted straight from Dreyer’s Ordet.
A worthy winner of the Grand Jury prize at Cannes, Silent Light further develops Reygadas’ concern with how love affects man’s desire and puts him at odds with society, though the director’s third film is in fact closer in aesthetic tone to his 2002 debut Japon than 2005’s kidnapping odyssey Battle In Heaven. Also included is his signature shot involving a remarkable sex scene between an older couple. But the big surprise of Silent Light comes from its stunning dénouement when the spiritual forces at work come to the fore. Outstanding.
Cameo, Edinburgh from Fri 7 Dec; GFT, Glasgow from Fri 28 Dec.