Rightwing Film Geek

… Holy light

SILENT LIGHT — Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland, 10 (upgraded from 9)

I got really down over the death of Tartan Films and thus the distribution limbo imposed on at least two masterpieces — SILENT LIGHT and YOU, THE LIVING — but there’s cause for rejoicing this week. New York’s Museum of Modern Art began Wednesday a one-week run for SILENT LIGHT. Besides giving me an incentive to care about finishing this essay, much of which has been sitting in my draft folder since FilmFestDC back in May, the MoMA run also makes it eligible for a certain film poll and far more importantly gives filmgoers in at least one US city a chance to see this great film in the only way it should be — in a theater. The New York Times (thanks Manohla Dargis; almost all is forgiven over JUNO) wrote a rapturous review and, according to an exhibitor I know, interest among other distributors in perking up. But if you live in or near New York, you owe it to yourself to see this film; you will not see a better one this year. And perhaps New Yorkers also owe it to the rest of the country to show a distributor that a potential audience does exist for SILENT LIGHT.

Now, no sane person (though Jonathan Rosenbaum has yet to be heard from) is under any illusion that SILENT LIGHT could be another DARK KNIGHT or even a potential LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. And I realize all the critical heavy breathing that follows may not make SILENT LIGHT seem like the most entertaining movie ever. And in a certain sense of “entertaining,” the film obviously isn’t entertaining. It’s definitely slow and meditative, but I do think it does suck you in, partly because the plot is so simple and unadorned (and thus readily accessible), with characters defined as archetypes without being limited to them, but also partly because it’s so drop-dead gorgeous to look at. Director Carlos Reygadas never seems to force anything on us, but somehow everything is there on the surface anyway, so the praise from snooty critics shouldn’t turn people off. SILENT LIGHT is as mesmerizing and hypnotic as a film gets — and I speak as someone myself who isn’t automatically a fan of this sort of “transcendental” film (I’m convinced “Bresson” is French for “boring”). And I was turned on to the film by a Cannes report from Mike D’Angelo, who has similar inclinations, calling himself “the sort of Neanderthal film buff who generally prefers traditional narratives to beatific tone poems.”

Just consider the title for a moment, and its two words — “silent” and “light.” The title tells you it’s a quiet, religious film (rhymes with S—– N—-). Then consider the universal fact of all films — that they unspool and thus only exist in time, a point emphasized in this case by the most obvious fact about the existential experience of watching the film — that SILENT LIGHT is slow. But lastly, SILENT LIGHT’s surface plot is an unapologetically old-fashioned morality tale about an adulterous affair, set in a small religious community of Mennonites in the northern Mexican province of Chihuahua. It basically tells the story of SUNRISE — of a man who strays from his marriage and is brought back by a rainstorm-threat to his wife’s health. (WARNING: There be explicit plot spoilers after the jump, in the context of thematic discussion.)

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September 26, 2008 Posted by | Carlos Reygadas, DC Filmfest 2008, Manohla Dargis | 1 Comment