Silent Light (2007/2009)

by | Sep 16, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Silent Light (2007/2009)

Director: Carlos Reygadas
Starring: Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz
Studio: Vivendi Entertainment/Palisades Tartan TVD2051 [Release date: Sept. 8, 09]
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color
Audio: Spanish & Plautdietsch DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Making-Of featurette, Interview with Cornelio Wall, Film notes by Jason Wood, Deleted scenes
Length: 136 minutes
Rating: ***(**)

The odd rating above is due to the fact that this is probably the slowest-moving motion picture most viewers have ever experienced. It will either be loved or hated. If you have seen any of the films of the Danish/Swedish director Carl Dreyer you will recognize the reliance on extremely long takes during which there is little or no dialog.  If you’re not in the proper frame of mind to accept this, it can drive you up the wall. I viewed this while having a very bad cold, and it wasn’t easy.

Yet the film has some of the most gorgeous cinematography imaginable, it depicts a religious sort of experience in a unique manner, and its austerity works perfectly to convey the story with very little action or dialog. The Mexican film has won numerous awards worldwide, the NY Times even saying “…to miss this film would be a sin.”  One feels a tremendous distancing from what is happening onscreen, yet we still feel immersed in more real life situations than found in most typical movies. One critic referred to Gustav Mahler in discussing Silent Light, but it was a comment of his about creating interest is easy, but creating beauty is difficult. My thought on Mahler was the different way his symphonies deal with time; they are drawn out greatly yet you don’t feel bored. The story is rather simple until its “miracle” conclusion. Raygadas’ filmic approach lets the moving story tell itself – he doesn’t impose any particular viewpoint.

The setting is a Mennonite farming community in Northern Mexico, where they speak a German dialect as well as Spanish. Johan heads a large family and against all strictures he has a sexual relationship with another woman. He tells his wife of the affair and tries to break it off, but his actions throw a wrench into their otherwise tranquil lifestyle. A friend and his own father also offer him simple advice. The tenseness of the situation comes to a head during a long drive by Johan and his wife in a heavy rain.

All of the actors are non-professionals – many probably actual members of the Mennonite community. They are not as ascetic as some Amish, for example, driving modern cars and trucks, listening to the radio, and having gas stoves and electric refrigerators. The acting is truly natural and believable, especially from the many children. The transfer of the astonishing nature cinematography is extremely hi-res for a standard DVD, and the natural sounds an immersing experience thruout. I should warn you that you cannot fast forward a scene when you think nothing seems to be happening, because then you will miss the very few important words of dialog in the subtitles that carry forward the story of the film. So just take a deep breath and approach this as a filmic meditation.

– John Sunier

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