Sadly, I only had the pleasure of catching one film of the Wexner Center’s excellent Cinema Latino series, but fortunately, through research and a little luck, the one that I did see, Silent Light, may have been the most enlightening film I’ve seen this decade. Honestly, it’s up there with There Will Be Blood and City of God – just a shame more people haven’t had the opportunity to witness the healing power this film possesses. What first tipped me off were the many reviews that, besides raving about the majestic opening shot, called director Carlos Reygadas an auteur descendent of Carl Theodore Dryer – and anyone who has seen Dryer’s Ordet or Vampyr will know exactly what to expect from Silent Light. Without giving away too much, the final scene here is a direct lift from the Ordet’s ending. But before we get there Reygadas moves in long, meditative, sequences not unlike Mallick, Bergman, and Ozu. He slow immerses us in the dawn of a typical day in the life of a Mennonite family in a remote Mexican village. By film’s end, it’s as if you are a participant in the community. Through studied (almost still-life) tracking over the landscape, you get a sense of the isolation and the attraction to lust the main character, Johan, wrestles with when he contends that God has guided him to his mistress. That’s the extent of the plot, but there’s little to tell -- every nuance in his walk and talk (the film’s in the Russian Mennonite tongue, Plautdietsch), his faith and action is enough to become transfixed upon, that and the green of the hills, the reflection of the water, the glare of the sun. All pretty hypnotic.
It’s Herzog that I’m reminded of most though, especially after my recent re-viewing of all the Herzog I own and a reading of Herzog on Herzog (I’m a bit obsessed) – in that Reygadas finds surreal beauty in the most ordinary of worlds. Of course a salt-of-the-earth Mennonite family in the hills of Mexico is exotic to the average viewer, but their lives (this was shot entirely with non-trained native actors) are slow, deliberate, and somewhat desolate. There are many moments throughout Silent Light, and even more so after seeing Reygadas’ first feature, Japon, that remind me of the spirit Herzog can inject into a film without an inch of stylization, simply letting the camera capture this new civilization he has found.
So Mexico has their Herzog and I’m begging someone to find me a copy of Reygadas’ second movie, Battle of Heaven. For now though, I’ll keep watching this trailer for Silent Light. (Bonus: here’s the opening scene, though a tiny computer screen does not do it justice.)