Alexsey Fedorchenko's elegiac and moving film marries melancholic longing with absurdism and presents its fiction in the cloak of facts. Even the book on which the credits claim the film is based - The Buntings by Aist Sergeyev (a mixture of the leading character's first name and the surname of the actor who plays him) - is a myth. And while the Merjan tribe became assimilated into the Russian melting pot so long ago that the funeral traditions represented in Fedorchenko's film are more a product of his own imagination than based on reality, it matters little to the truthfulness of the grieving process which he explores. Like the pictures of cityscapes that hang on the walls near the start of the film, this is an impression of one - possibly many - traditions rather than a photo-real snapshot of it.

Aist (Igor Sergeyev) is our companion on this poetic road trip. A loner, perhaps, he lives in a Russia marked out by cold, industrial dampness, as though vitality has been rinsed from the air. Even the pair of caged buntings he buys at the local market have a drab, mournful quality, although they are energetic little souls nonetheless. His boss Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo) tells him that his much younger wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug, who never speaks a word in the film, even in flashback) has died suddenly. Aist readily agrees, for reasons that become apparent through the course of the film, to take part in a road-trip ritual as the preferred method of mourning.

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So, the two men wash Tanya's body and then, separated by the busy little buntings in their cage, head off to return her to the place where she and Miron went on honeymoon. As the two travel, with Miron engaging in the "smoke" - a tradition we're told involves talking in the frankest terms about the dead - we are taken on a more metaphysical journey, where the rivers of personal remembance, cultural traditions and imagination start to tumble over one another.

There are moments of the absurd - a typewriter slipping into a frozen lake, a full-blown choir singing about a bizarre trip to a chemist's shop - yet Fedorchenko's grip on melancholy never loosens. All of it is shot beautifully by Mikhail Krichman, with the general bleakness intermittently punctuated by scenes featuring autumn trees or the striking blue of wood beneath a bare body that seem like an explosion of colour by comparison. Meanwhile the mournful score by Andrei Karasyov is the perfect accompaniment to this journey of the spirit.

Like the fire and water that will ultimately consume Tanya, Fedorchenko's film is a glorious contradiction, simple in terms of story and yet almost unfathomable in terms of its emotional currents - and it is hard not to fall under its spell. As one of the characters puts it, "something sparked and hopelessly sped away."

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2012
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Silent Souls packshot
Two friends travel across Russia hoping to bury the dead wife of one of them where she and her husband spent their honeymoon.
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Director: Alexsey Fedorchenko

Writer: Denis Osokin

Starring: Yuri Tsurilo, Igor Sergeyev, Yuliya Aug, Viktor Sukhorukov

Year: 2010

Runtime: 75 minutes

Country: Russia


London 2010

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