Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas

A film with an absolutely stunning beginning and ending, two shots that leaves one spellbound in their beauty, sublimity and enormity, is an achievement in itself. But the director Carlos Reygadas from Mexico has done much more in the two hours than only create these two moments.


A meditative film about transgression and regret and about the understanding of human fallibility, Silent Light is silent about what it wants to say. It does not judge the sinner-saints of this film, but lets the silent awareness of their acts and lives seep into you, as slowly and beautifully as a dewdrop falling from the petals of a flower.


This film is the state of the art in so many different arenas, be it composition, editing, fluid camera work, sound design, un-self-conscious acting, the understatement of its narrative (except at one point), that it can be justifiably considered a film with the strength to re-create the "magic" of cinema. Having seen hundreds and thousands of films, one sometimes is in the danger of not being affected by even the most harrowing of screen-moments, but this film silently creates a mood so powerful from its bare and sparse scenes that at the end, when the sun moves in a golden arc through the tree, one's hands are folded almost in prayer at having witnessed something whose simple power comes not from manipulation but from an unfathomable depth of what it means to be a limited, temporary consciousness in an eternal, infinite universe.


In this film, the movement of the camera has a unique stillness and calm, even when it is in the process of witnessing an unbearable tragedy. Each mundane moment of a family suspended in the delineated duration between birth and death is cinema at its purest: the creation of an uncommon piercing mood from the most ordinary of events. The dinner table, the kiss, the pond, the hotel room, the watching of TV, the sipping of tea at a ceremony, the driving of a car, the passage of the sun and the stars, ...

Two scenes especially are impossible to forget. Johan's breaking down in the beginning, and his kiss with Marianne at the hillside. The artistry and the realism is too formidable for words, and I daresay that no man has ever cried on screen like Johan in this film, and that that is what crying is like in real life. And also, I can unhesitatingly claim that there has not been a kiss in the history of cinema to match the kiss of Johan and Marianne.

If Irreversible by Gaspar Noe was a journey through the nether world of urban nihilism and the futility of regret, this film is a voyage through the tranquility of rural life, the reversing of time and the transcending power of realizing one's mistakes. In Silent Light, the skyscape is clouded at the beginning. At the end, when it clears up after having been through a storm, it is as if it was a single day in the universe.

The symbolism is not very hard, though pervasive in the film. When Johan is circling at the garage, it is as if he is going around in circles in his giddy self-concern, with no end in sight. When Johan stops the clock at the beginning, it is as if he does not want too much time to pass before he makes up his mind because he knows the cost of time. When Marianne shields herself from the sun, she is shielding herself from the stark light of realization. When Esther is harvesting the field, she is crushed and torn apart and being churned inside. When the car is on the unpaved road, alone, it is a symbol of Johan in his inner turmoil and noise. When the parents are in the barn, with cows slowly occupying their place, it shows the certainty, security and understanding born of time and habit. When the two hotel rooms are shown, we are not sure where Johan is, which woman he belongs to. The two rooms are identical, with one having more mature trees at the outside. At the pond, some children frolic, some dive in hesitatingly, some stay outside: the diverse attitudes to the risks one has to take in life.

This is a film of homage by the director to the various "saints" before him: Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, Tarkovsky, Bergman. And this is therefore not just a film, but is also a pilgrimage.

I have been privileged to watch this.

3 comments:

Umang said...

Such high praise for a movie from you is rare. I *have* to add it to my must watch list. :-)

pravs said...

I read several of your blogs....am very impressed with your thinking and observation...where can I learn more about you? I chanced upon your blog because of the transporting motorcycle article :)

pankaj said...

"when the sun moves in a golden arc through the tree, one's hands are folded almost in prayer at having witnessed something whose simple power comes not from manipulation but from an unfathomable depth of what it means to be a limited, temporary consciousness in an eternal, infinite universe."

wow....that almost extracted a tear.