Tuesday, December 11, 2007

London Film Fest Day 12 (late review) - SILENT LIGHT/STELLET LICHT

A still, patient camera captures the sounds and images of a sunrise in the Chihuahua region of Mexico. I'm always amazed by how loud nature is once you get out into the countryside, and these opening shots are incredibly intense. The wide canvas is contrasted with the buttoned-down, scrupulously neat home of Johan, Esther and their many children. The family are Mennonites of German heritage, living by customs and ethics and speaking a dialect that can seem antiquated and strange to modern sensibilities. But behind the well-ordered exterior, Johan's crisis seems utterly contemporary and as mammoth as the landscape in which he lives. Johan has fallen in love with a woman called Marianne and now faces an unbearable choice: either he betrays his wife and his religion or he betrays his true desires. Cornelio Wall Fehr gives a measured and moving performance as Johan. Miriam Toews is desperately sympathetic as Johan's wife, suffering mostly in silence. But the real star of the movie is the patient, unflinching camera of DP Alexis Zabe.

My experience of SILENT LIGHT changed radically as the film progressed. At first I was fascinated to experience an insight into a totally foreign way of life. By the middle of the film I was started to feel bored by the endless scenes of domestic minutiae. But the film built into a highly charged denouement that confounded all expectations.

SILENT LIGHT/STELLET LICHT played Cannes 2007 where Carlos Reygadas won the Jury Prize. It also played Toronto and London 2007. It was released in Mexico, Belgium, France and the UK earlier this year and is released in the Netherlands on February 14th 2008. The movie is Mexico's nomination for the Oscars.

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