Dir. Carolos Reygadas
Silent Light is one of those films which is pretty much impossible to review. I’ll give the short consumer report and then head into the meat of the film, which you should not read if you want to see the film.
Johan is a Mennonite in Northern Mexico, who is having an affair. He knows it’s a sin, has told his wife about it, as well as his father who is also his pastor, but doesn’t feel it’s wrong. In fact, he seems to believe that it’s the work of God.
Silent Light is bot: it looks amazing and is nearly silent. It looks gorgeous, which helps, because the film is purposefully paced like a late Dryer film (though knowing more about Reygadas' influences its probably more correct to say it’s paced like a Warhol film), though, the characters internalize more, and the pacing is more extreme (ie. Slow) than in any Dryer film, which makes this rather frustrating to watch at times (for me, more because of the acting. These are non-professional actors from the Mennonite community, but the direction they were given seems to suggest that this acting style is more than intentional). If you have not seen Dryer, specifically one of his last two films (preferably Ordet) do not see this film until you do.
However, while the film’s style, which is about as faithful to Schrader’s Transcendental Style as anything I’ve seen, suggests a Dryer-like reading, this is a film thematically with much more similar to Tarkovsky’s later work, specifically The Sacrifice (and it may be no accident that he chose a community which speaks in a Russian dialect). And like that film, Silent Light is a troubling film that will stay with you for a long time.
In fact, I'll give you a list of films that you should probably know before you see this film, the film either directly of indirectly referencing them.
-Winter Light (Title's aside, this Bergman film perhaps is the antithesis to this film. Probably Bergman's last film in which he gives some hope to the reality of God or at least religiosity, and that reality is only found, or at least allowed to exist through strict repitious procedure and practice)
-Babette's Feast ( a similar film that is likewise a spiritual essay on body v spirit)
At first reading, I felt that the film was something of a parody of Dryer: using his pacing style, and borrowing his most startling third act; setting the film in a rigid religious community, etc. to the extreme to show that spirituality is not found in film procedure, but in action. In some ways it is a criticism of the Transcendental Style. I failed at trying to find God in its form and procedure because Reygadas is saying that spirituality is not inherent in the style.
The film borrows heavily from Ordet, and many reviews have pointed that out, and the names of the characters are quite aware of this. But what I, and other reviewers missed upon first reading of this film, is that this isn’t a film about faith, or grace, or even God as they exist in Dryer’s film. Rather this is a film about passion.Not to suggest that this film is only troubling to believers, the fact that there is a miracle requires a rather swift paradigm shift for any viewer as far as the textual world of the film.
“Peace is stronger than love.” Marianne tells Johan the final time they make love before she ends the affair. Though it turns out that she is just telling him what he wants to hear. In the end, it is because of Marianne’s love that a miracle is performed and through that miracle, the peace of the community is broken, or at least complicated. The mixture of the sacred and the profane in this film is not so much to make a statement of their opposition, but rather to make take the mystical position that the two can co-exist, in nature and in humanity.
The film is sensuously shot, very concerned with nature and bodies. Not for the same reasons that Altman used the wide shot in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, where the two are near insignificant in the sight of the larger natural forces, but to show the impossibility of denying the natural. This may seem to suggest that the film is using the Mennonite community to show the denying the physical in religion is absurd. But rather I think Reygadas chose them because he seems to think they’re pretty close to getting the balance right. The family is very concerned with the physical and natural world, and this is an important part of their spiritual identity.
Lastly, the films very drawn out framing shots at the beginning and the end, as well as some surreal juxtapositions inside of the film, suggest the film’s kinship to another tradition, perhaps best cross-referenced to the work of Gavaldon, especially his film Macario. Here, it is a natural mysticism which in the end seems to get a hierarchical and linear superiority to western religion. Note the films references to plant life, and especially to trees. And the final shot’s soundtrack. In those lie the keys to the film; and they reveal a more painful and haunting complexity than the film would appear to give.