Monday, June 2, 2008

Silent Light

My review of Silent Light appears in this week's Westender.

Silent Light
By Andrea Warner
4 stars
271 words

A Mexican movie with a skeletal plot and sumptuous visuals, filmed almost entirely in the Plautdietsch dialect of the German language, and cast with virtual unknowns? It’s a dicey experiment and it pays off beautifully for writer/director Carlos Reygadas.

Silent Light traverses a familiar topic with an intriguing twist: adultery, Mennonite style. Johan (Cornelio Wall) is deeply religious, but can’t fight his attraction to Marianne (Maria Pankratz), his lover of two years. Esther (Canadian novelist Miriam Toews) is Johan’s long-suffering wife, a stoic figure in a black dress who’s borne him a brood of blond babies.

The film slowly builds to a tragic climax (will Johan choose lust or family?), and then keeps going for another 15 minutes before its out-of-left-field ending. But, while the plot is interesting in its own way, it’s secondary to the cinematography and direction.

Silent Light is film making at its most prosaic and arty, and it’s incredibly gratifying to watch a camera linger over a scene in today’s style of quick-cuts. The opening shot envelops the audience in all consuming, disorienting darkness, the silence periodically shattered by high-pitched animal cries. It takes about five minutes before the orange glow of sunrise reveals the countryside.

The elements, both natural and manmade are used to wonderful effect: the tick-tock of the clock that looms, unseen, filling up the uncomfortable silence between Johan and Esther over breakfast; the torrential downpour of rain that soaks Esther to the bone as she finally breaks down.

Silent Light is almost confounding in its simplicity and sensory immersion. And though the dialogue is sparse, it will have film buffs talking up a storm.

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