Silent Light (2007)

27 04 2008

It seems that, once again, everyone is either praising or condemning Carlos Reygadas. Despite his long list of “cinephille-approved” influences, which he wears openly on his sleeve, he is seen as some as an overeager naïve man wanting to provide a bunch of Tarkovsky references. In other words, he is a snobbier version of Quentin Tarantino. Make no mistake; these assessments are completely false, especially in the context of his latest effort, Silent Light. A huge leap forward in maturity for Reygadas even though the film itself is not without some outstanding faults.

The narrative borrows heavily from Dreyer’s Ordet (which I have yet to see) which gives plenty of ammunition for Reygadas’ critics. Considering how influenced he is by directors such as Herzog and Tarkovsky, I have a hard believing he actually cares about the “plot” of his films. In its very best moments, Silent Light is a visceral and poetic examination of family life. All the images that are captured tend to lean on the “ugly” side at least in a superficial sense, but within their sensory-driven context, they are undoubtedly beautiful, not unlike the images in Harmony Korine’s Gummo. In fact, one of the film’s greatest sequences features the children taking a swim in a nearby pond; many visual cues are taken almost directly from Korine’s film though there are obvious connections with Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo as well. The way in which Reygadas has crafted his film is perfect and is innovative in its own right, despite all the aesthetical comparisons he is likely to receive. This is a film that hopefully, people will look at, and see it as a huge technical inspiration. It is a concoction of Tati deadpan humor and Ozu playfulness, all presented in a manner reminiscent of Terrence Malick. Such comparisons are not intended to downplay the originality of Reygadas’ work because I have yet to see a film that is as visually astute as this is.

With all of its cinematic innovations, Silent Light falls on its face when it comes to drama. The visceral, spontaneous, and wordless sequences work perfectly but things begin to drag when more conventional “character-building” tactics are used. In all honesty, all the relationship stuff here is uninteresting. Are we suppose to even care about this preist and his wife is she even someone that Reygadas intends the audience to have concern for? In other words, why don’t we have more sequences like the tracking shot of the priest walking the grass? That is far, far more profound than some B-movie-esque relationship turmoil that is sprinkled into the film accordingly. It seems almost that every scene in which a conversation takes place, it loses its tone. It’s like if Herzog threw in a sequence where someone talks about their sadness in Even Dwarfs Started Small. This shift in tone is overwhelming.

In the end, these problems don’t outweigh the film but they do indeed dilute all of its innovations. I feel obligated to reinforce just what a splendor it is to watch this film unfold, in a visual sense, even if the dramatic stuff is forced. Cinema, like all arts, is constantly progression and Silent Light represents a huge leap in cinematic capabilities. To describe the film’s opening sequence would give away too much but rest assured, you’ve seen nothing like it before. Breathless wasn’t the greatest movie ever, but the introduction of jump cuts changed the face of cinema. Even though such a comparison is over the top, I see Reygadas’ film going down a similar path.

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