SILENT LIGHT (STELLET LICHT) (Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Monday, September 3, 8:00
Carlos Reygadas’s Silent Light is a gentle, deeply felt, gorgeously shot work of intense calm and beauty. The film opens with a stunning sunrise and ends with a glorious sunset; in between is scene after scene of sublime beauty and simplicity, as Reygadas uses natural sound and light, a cast of mostly nonprofessional actors, and no incidental music to tell his story, allowing it to proceed naturally. In a Mennonite farming community in northern Mexico where Plautdietsch is the primary language, Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr) is torn between his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews), and his lover, Marianne (Maria Pankratz). While he loves Esther, he finds a physical and spiritual bond with Marianne that he does not feel with his wife and their large extended family. Although it pains Johan deeply to betray Esther, he is unable to decide between the two women, even after tragedy strikes. Every single shot of the spare, unusual film, which tied for the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival (with Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis), is meticulously composed by Reygadas (Japon, Battle in Heaven) and cinematographer Alexis Zabe, as if a painting. Many of the scenes consist of long takes with little or no camera movement and sparse dialogue, evoking the work of Japanese minimalist master Yasujiro Ozu. The lack of music evokes the silence of the title, but the quiet, filled with space and meaning, is never empty. And the three leads — Fehr, who lives in Mexico; Toews, who is from Canada; and Pankratz, who was born in Kazakhstan and lives in Germany — are uniformly excellent in their very first film roles. Silent Light is a mesmerizing, memorable, and very different kind of cinematic experience. Silent Light, which was shown at the 2007 New York Film Festival, is screening at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the ongoing series “50 Years of the New York Film Festival,” which continues with such NYFF vets as Jafar Panahi’s Offside, Abdellatif Kechich’s Black Venus, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Individual tickets for the fiftieth anniversary of the New York Film Festival, which runs September 28 through October 14, go on sale to the general public on September 9.