Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, March 06, 2009

Silent Light

We just got back from seeing Stellet Licht (Silent Light) at the Belcourt. It's a remarkable film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas about people in a German-speaking Mennonite community in Mexico. It's a story about adultery, filmed with non-professional actors in their dialect, which is a version of Plattdeutsch. It operates on so many levels, and I'm not sure I'm up to writing about it. The main thing I want to do is let people know it's playing, because it's only going to be at the Belcourt for this weekend. There was some sad story with distributors so the film has never gotten decent distribution here.

Its portrayal of the psychological, emotional, and spiritual effects of adultery hit me really hard. It also all goes much farther, into the questions about the nature of divine in human experience, the difficulty in discerning how God speaks to us. Aspects of the film are devastating, but the people and the story are so firmly grounded in steady corporeality that the divine goodness comes out, the goodness behind the formation of the world out of formlessness. In this setting, and with the movie opening with the night turning to light and then closing back into night, creation is on your mind.

I found myself identifying strongly with the leading character Johan's weaknesses. There were other personal connections, some small details, like film of Jacques Brel (an artist I'm quite fond of) showing up at one point, and the fact the dialogue is in Plattdeutsch, which as I understand it is the dialect spoken in my Grandfather's community in Nebraska before WWI.

It's also about the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long time. The countryside in this part of Mexico (Chihuahua) is stunning, the farmlands and interiors beautiful and beautifully filmed.

This seems like a perfect film to see during Lent. It's an extended contemplation about the things Lent contemplates, if not seen through a devotional lens.

Another small detail--in a funeral scene, the people sing passages from the scriptures. It's strong, ancient stuff, and it reminds me a lot of Scots Gaelic psalmody. Some of my distant ancestors were Mennonites, and it was amazing to listen to this and think this is what my family sounded like 150 or 200 years ago. It would have sent a shivver down my spine except that it's part of a complex scene and I had a lot of other emotions going on simultaneously.


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