Silent Light

Silent Light


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Silent Light is beautiful. There's really no other word for it. From the hypnotic opening shot of sunrise over the plains of Chihuahua, a staggering piece of time-lapse film-making that cuts trees out of the blackness of the night sky, Silent Light is a powerful, technically excellent piece of cinema.

Set in the Mennonite community of northern Mexico, this is a simple story. A farmer, Johann, is cheating on his wife Esther with another woman, Marianne. It seems, on the surface, slight, but in these formal, painterly landscapes, everything acquires significance.

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So clearly constructed, and, in fairness, so slow, the act of watching becomes the act of trying to understand. A clock, an apple, "the implacable enemy", all become signs, places ripe for interpretation. Almost all scenes are shot with a fixed camera, slow zooms producing menace, wonder, the occasional shots with a handicam inviting interpretation about the significance of those choices. Silent Light is artful, to the extent of being difficult. Like Solitary Fragments and Hidden, it is a painstakingly constructed narrative, asking questions, asking the audience to do the same.

At 132 minutes, Silent Light is undeniably long. Unlike the recent Riza, however, its length is a product of its eye for detail, its completeness, its unrelenting focus. Carlos Reygadas is historically uncompromising in his approach to film making, and notes from the production (as well as the film itself) indicate that this remains the case. The cast are largely unknowns, but the real star is the landscape, and the composition of the shots.

An undeniable visual masterpiece, Silent Light is also a triumph of sound design. There is almost no music, with crisply realised natural noise, and, perhaps even more bravely, occasionally inaudible dialogue. Subtitles are key, the connection between silence and light in concrete terms. This is film-making that problematises the act of watching, the act of listening, to have the audience watch and listen more.

Much has been made of the opening shot, over ten minutes long, but there are scenes at least as striking, if not more. Some other reviews have referred to the film's critical moment as 'shocking', but this is not the case. It is stunning, literally so, a surprise that drops the jaw and sinks the stomach. Anticipation makes Silent Light work. It must be known that something will happen, because otherwise few would have the patience for it.

Silent Light is deliberately difficult, and while it is worth it, it is sufficiently challenging that many will not bother, and no blame can be attached for that. This is artful film making of the highest order, purposefully, wilfully obscure, technically astounding. If you are the kind of filmgoer who has a favourite shot, then this film is for you.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2007
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A deeply religious, married man falls in love with another woman and has to question his whole life.
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Director: Carlos Reygadas

Writer: Carlos Reygadas

Starring: Elizabeth Fehr, Jacobo Klassen, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews, Cornelio Wall, Peter Wall

Year: 2007

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Mexico, France, Netherlands, Germany

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