March 25, 2009

Silent Light

I'm glad I waited for this. Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light started playing festivals, beginning with Cannes, in 2007 and played the North Island but not the South in New Zealand's 2008 festivals. Thankfully, NZFF director Bill Gosden has put this right by programming Silent Light in this year's World Cinema Showcase (Auckland and Wellington get to see it again). It's been available on DVD here for a few months but that would be entirely the wrong way to see Reygadas's slow, serious and absorbing masterpiece. Art like this needs a large canvas; the screen at the Rialto in Christchurch will do. The setting is a Mennonite community in northern Mexico where the dialect Plautdietsch is still spoken; the subject and the storyline -- which really shouldn't be divulged by reviewers -- could lead one to compare it to Breaking the Waves, only it's less overwrought, graver in tone, more forgiving of its characters, more carefully documentary-like but still open to the miraculous. Which really means that, like Von Trier, Reygadas was influenced by Carl Dreyer's simple, stark and powerful northern European religious stories (Ordet especially). This is film-going as an act of contemplation, or rapt attention, and it can have the unexpected effect of making you feel more alive when you leave the cinema than when you arrived. "Curious how a slow and deep film can absorb, and a fast and shallow one can tire us" -- Roger Ebert, reviewing Silent Light.