Mennonites in Mexico battle with religion and infidelity within the elegant silent mild

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own unfathomable whims. This week before Easter, we’re going to watch films about Christianity.

In the beginning, the Bible tells us that God created heaven and earth. It took him six days. Carlos Reygadas, the half-loving deity who made Silent Light, does the job in about six minutes. The film opens on an informal void and first adds twinkling stars and the shimmering ribbon of the Milky Way. Then it tilts slowly and turns downwards until some branches are faintly visible, obstructing some of the starlight. Finally, when the sun rises (much faster than in reality, but with a deliberation rarely seen in movies) it is possible to see a rural landscape, accompanied by the chirping of crickets, the beeping of birds and frolic the great distance of the cattle. It’s not quite as explicitly a cinematic creation as Terrence Malick would offer just four years later, but Reygadas employs it for similar purposes, juxtaposing the indescribable majesty of existence itself with the downright ordinary troubles of a single family.

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In this case, it is a family of Mennonites who live in Chihuahua, Mexico, although this is not immediately clear. While we see them say grace (silently, except for a final “Amen”) before dinner, and they appear quite pious in general, their denomination is never mentioned; All (minimal) dialogue takes place in German for a long time, although it is actually a Mennonite German dialect called Plautdietsch. Like the Amish in America, these people mostly stay to themselves, farm the land and bathe their children in a nearby river. It’s an idyllic life for those with a certain temperament, or at least if Patriarch Johan (Cornelio Wall), who loves his wife Esther (writer Miriam Toews) very much, hadn’t fallen passionately in love with another woman. Marianne (Maria Pankratz). Johan does not sneak around – he has told Esther everything – but he is tortured by his infidelity, although he is firmly convinced that Marianne is his true soul mate. He can’t stop seeing her, even though he knows he’s killing Esther with it, maybe in the truest sense of the word.

The story goes on

As the madness of an opening recording suggests, Silent Light – despite being in a religious community – takes an implicit approach to synthesizing the physical, emotional and spiritual. When Johan prays, he does so in complete silence. (We see him early on in an act of surrender that accompanies an impending nervous breakdown.) When he wants advice, he asks his literal father (Peter Wall, the actor’s real father). rather than his Heavenly Father what to do. The film builds on a tragedy followed by a miracle honest with God – a tribute to a Scandinavian classic from half a century earlier. (The naming would be a major spoiler.) However, unlike the film that specifically asks for God’s mercy, Silent Light does not want to reveal the mechanism by which the impossible becomes a reality. In a secular context, it could easily be perceived as something more woolly, like the power of love or regret or compassion – a mystical act of self-sacrifice. Reygadas chose this particular milieu for a reason, however, and those who tend to look beyond the visible will have no trouble.

Anyone familiar with Reygadas’ other films – including Japón, Battle In Heaven, Post Tenebras Lux, and Our Time – knows that they can be quite a provocateur. This time, to his great honor, he suppressed the impulse completely, allowing simple, painfully righteous gestures and feelings to flow freely. These are reinforced here by a formal approach that visually contrasts light and darkness, often with a dazzling effect. An early sequence begins with her being slowly pushed in through a shady garage door. tilts down to reveal the mechanics at work in a pit; jumps back about 20 feet to reveal Johan standing by the door, hands on hips, peering into the darkness; Then Johan cuts from inside the building at an inverted angle. Now he stands in front of the camera and is framed against the landscape. It’s breathtaking simply because of the length of each shot and the way we are pushed from one perspective to another. We later discover that a considerable amount of time has passed when Johan and his father step out of the dark interior of a house into the snow that is practically engulfed in its white. Christians may appreciate Silent Light on a level of its own, but it is a manna for anyone kneeling at the altar of the sublime cinema.

Availability: Silent Light is currently streamed on Kanopy (from select libraries). It can also be rented and / or purchased digitally through Vudu and MUBI.

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