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

FilmFest DC — day 1 capsules

LOST MOON — Sudhir Mishra, India, 6

I don’t know that “discovers” is the right word, but I want to say this is “Bollywood discovers post-modernism” — taking its original title, KHOYA KHOYA CHAND, from a classic song (available here; hopefully that’ll work, leaving you to choose the player) and essentially telling a behind-the-scenes story that has some parallels to the stories of Hindi pop cinema from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, including the making of the original movie that contained that song (imagine a fictionalized Donald O’Connor in a “Behind the Music” biopic titled “Make Em Laugh” covering the MGM 1950s for the general idea). The performances are appropriately broad for their archetypal characters — Saurabh Shukla as a fretting money-conscious producer (“it will be a hit”) and Sushmita Mukherjee as a middle-aged actress-vamp (“if you can’t have the wedding, who says you can’t have the wedding night”) are both total hoots. As Camille Paglia has noted on more than one occasion, Bollywood is the only place in the movie world where unapologetic glamor, beauty and sumptuousness-for-its-own-sake can still be found. LOST MOON not only has Soha Ali Khan and Shiney Ahuja as its leads, but its “movie-set” premise uses every excuse to indulge in escapist frippery in the sets and costumes — flowers garlanding a bed and petals spread over sheets: that sort of thing. However, Bollywood movies are like Toyota Corollas — consistently enjoyable and watchable (i.e., “functional”) while rarely being great (i.e., “exciting”). In the case of this particular movie, as I implied, Khan and Ahuja both have glamor to spare, but neither can really act. I also got a strong sense that the plot of LOST MOON would have been at least more fun (if not exactly “more sensible” or “less rambling”) for Indians, who can get all the movie in-jokes than any “firangi” like myself who, though obviously a fan of the genre, has seen fewer than 50 “Hindi pop” movies. But while the fun songs are playing … really, who cares?

TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey, 8

This film is teetering on the edge of a 9, held back only by my utter ignorance of the details of certain (apparently) small Muslim sects. Like with LOST MOON and Bollywood history, it’s the kind of “mother’s milk” stuff for a film’s domestic audience, but which went over the head of this Polytheist Crusader and seems vital to understanding what this film is “saying,” though it’s a tribute to TAKVA that it did make me want to find out and never left me in doubt that I was watching a great film, albeit one I couldn’t quite grasp as firmly as I’d want. A small (in several senses), late-middle-aged man, Muharrem is shown to be one of the most devout members of a Muslim group in Istanbul that seems (sorry for these comparisons, but I can only speak “Christian”) to be a kind of Pentecostal or Charismatic Shi’ite sect, with prescribed liturgies. He performs regular ablutions, greets everyone with prayer formulations, prays before every meal and clearly lives only to please God. His very faithful naivete, the sheik decides, makes him the ideal man to handle the group’s worldly goods (“the wise try to trick”) and he moves in to the seminary and becomes a rent collector, and is given clothes and baubles to look the part, even though the threads are rather ill-fitting no matter the body sizes. A kind of existential crisis comes, though it’s not resolved exactly as I’d expected. And TAKVA is richly and minutely observed for its entire length — moments like Muharrem’s ex-boss telling him to get coffee (I’ve heard more than one priest note how people act differently in the presence of a collar, for good and ill) and attitudes that can only come from an honor culture with contempt for worldliness. Erkan Can is like a Semitic Paul Giamatti in build and gait and schlubiness, and, like a man who knows God’s greatness lies in his nothingness, he gives Muharrem not an ounce of self-regard (look at something as simple and second-nature as how he repeatedly handles, or rather mishandles, a cell phone). By the end of the film … speaking vaguely but SPOILERS … Muharrem the humble pious man is destroyed like Norman Bates at the end of PSYCHO, but this is not a Turkish Dawkinsism, because the manner in which this happens is a kind of Satanic (temporary) victory.

THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay, 5

Forget it, Adam … not only does the Pope not take a dump, but there’s hardly even any scatology in the film (none that I recall specifically right now), though the title does make it mandatory for me to say that the Digital Video used here looks like crap — all blurry and muddy and primary-color-free (I thought the film was out of focus several times), as if this movie was for posting on YouTube. An oddly uncompelling movie because it never really settles down into either “black comedy” or “caper movie” or “small town pluck” or “family drama/dramedy” territory, instead kinda falling in between all the chairs. POPE’S TOILET is certainly watchable, never really boring and occasionally funny. Lead actor Cesar Troncoso, as the man with the idea to make a fortune by charging tourists to use an outdoor toilet that he’ll build, and lead actress Virginia Mendez as his reality-principle wife are both credible and inhabit the roles quite well. My favorite bit was the family rehearsing “the pitch script” for how they will deal with the customers. And I enjoyed hearing some of the Pope chants that find their way into every language (“Juan Pablo, amigo / El pueblo contigo”). The film has a bit of an Ealing vibe, like a TITFIELD THUNDERBOLT, PASSPORT TO PIMLICO or WHISKY GALORE, also about small plucky communities with plans to get ahead. But it’s neither as featherweight as the first two (there are scenes of domestic violence and drunkenness) nor as venal as the third (the people of Melo are more naive than anything) — so the comedy never consistently takes off.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, DC Filmfest 2008, Ozer Kiziltan, Sudhir Mishra | 2 Comments

FilmFest DC — days 1/2 grades

Sat 26
LOST MOON — Sudhir Mishra, India, 6
TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey, 8
THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay, 5

Sun 27
MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS — Wong Kar-wai, USA, 7  (technically out of festival)
SILENT LIGHT — Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland, 10 (upgraded from 9) R
THE SHOW MUST GO ON — Han Jae-rim, South Korea, 6

April 28, 2008 Posted by | DC Filmfest 2008 | | Leave a comment

My FilmFestDC schedule

Just before I leave my pad to start watching, these are the films I’ll be seeing over the next week (days off work being the primary constraint).

Sat 26
300pm LOST MOON (aka KHOYA KHOYA CHAND) — Sudhir Mishra, India
630pm TAKVA: A MAN’S FEAR OF GOD — Ozer Kiziltan, Turkey
930pm THE POPE’S TOILET — Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, Uruguay

Sun 27
500pm SILENT LIGHT — Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland
745pm THE SHOW MUST GO ON — Han Jae-rim, South Korea

Mon 28
630pm BUDDHA COLLAPSED OUT OF SHAME — Hana Makhmalbaf, Iran
830pm UNFINISHED STORIES — Pourya Azarbayjani, Iran

Tue 29
630pm LA ANTENA — Esteban Sapir, Argentina
815pm YOU THE LIVING — Roy Andersson, Sweden

Sat 3
700pm PVC-1 — Stathos Stathoulopoulos, Colombia
930pm ELITE SQUAD — Jose Padilha, Brazil

When I went to pick up my tickets at Olsson’s Books, the man chuckled after I finished the first Saturday order and said “wow … three films in one day.” I told him I’ve done seven at festivals where the scheduling allows that (FilmFestDC’s scheduling doesn’t really; I think four is the most you could do on any one day, and on most it’s just two)

April 26, 2008 Posted by | DC Filmfest 2008 | 2 Comments

Playing at FilmFest DC

FilmFestDC released the program of movies for this year’s festival, which runs from April 24 to May 4. , though as I type this Monday morning, they don’t seem yet to have up the schedule, with dates and times. I’ve already seen five of these films, at Toronto, and here are my reviews of them:

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN, Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 8
THE FALL, Tarsem, Britain/India, 7
ONE HUNDRED NAILS, Ermanno Olmi, Italy, 4
SILENT LIGHT, Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/Holland, 9
YOU, THE LIVING, Roy Andersson, Sweden, 9

Despite my already having seen them, I hope, schedule-permitting, to be able to see SILENT LIGHT and YOU, THE LIVING again, simply because I doubt they’ll see commercial releases outside of New York and maybe Los Angeles. And as the grades suggest, I’d recommend four of these five films, with THE EDGE OF HEAVEN probably being the one that the most people would like, with the other three having in their different ways a very high eccentricity quotient.

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March 31, 2008 Posted by | DC Filmfest 2008 | Leave a comment