The long opening of ‘Silent Light’ are probably the six most absorbing and beautiful minutes I have ever spent inside a movie theatre. It is a simple unbroken shot of pitch black nighttime sky sprinkled with stars, gradually lighting up to reveal its gorgeous surroundings by the sun rising in the distant horizon, but it is rendered with such expert framing and technique that it grabs your attention. It also remains absolutely silent for this duration except for the background sound of nocturnal insects, replaced by the sounds of chirping birds and grazing animals. The director, Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas doesn’t just make a cinematically unique film, but also one with a distinctive narrative. It is also the first Mexican movie to be filmed in the Plautdietsch language, a German dialect still spoken in Mexico.
In the Mennonite community of Mexico lives Johann, a farmer married to Esther and father of their six children. A religious man and the son of a priest, he faces a deep predicament that tears him apart – his adulterous relationship with Marianne, a woman he is ready to give up his marital status for and live the rest of his life with. Under the strain of this situation, in intensely thoughtful and well played out scenes, Johann seemingly still tries to go about leading a normal existence, except that he has told his wife everything from the very beginning and he is unable to shake off his love for this other woman. For a film with such a simplistic setup, the wealth of complexities in each shot is staggering. In one such moment, Johann drives back home late at night with his family with the focus on his face in the dark when we see, very briefly as light is reflected by a passing vehicle, tears on his cheek. The attention to detail is cinematically rewarding. We hear the sound of snow cracking under people’s feet as they walk over it. Even the passing of time is acknowledged with the setting changing from spring time to winter and then back again.
Thematically the film most closely evokes the memory of Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of heaven’, but here the thoughts of the characters and their reaction to situations are terribly sincere. The extremely long, and I will admit, sometimes patience testing sequences are not for all tastes, but they are all richly rewarding, if not always for their content then for their form. The ending of the film is certain to stir up debate. As a viewer, one can look at it logically or emotionally. Either way, it will make sense to you even if at first you feel it is preposterous or swindling. Contemplative cinema at its best, ‘Silent Light’, like a painting that seems to come to life, cannot be described, only experienced.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 5 out of 5]