Carlos Reygadas disappoints with his follow-up to the brilliant two-fer Japón and Battle in Heaven. Trading his confrontational perversity for stilted spiritual mannerism, Reygadas basically remixes Dreyer’s Ordet with this tale of a Mennonite family whose patriarch, Johan (Cornelio Wall), is engaged in an affair with a neighbor, Marianne (Maria Pankratz).
Despite the religious affront, Johan has more-or-less reconciled himself to long-term l’amour fou, and has also told several family members about the affair, including his wife Esther (Miriam Toews), who puts on a bravely game face even as she approaches, unawares, an unfortunately literal point of heartbreak.
Save for Silent Light’s bookend sequences (as in Battle in Heaven, a superbly orchestrated visual/aural rhyme), Reygadas works mainly in the implicative margins (we often seem to come into scenes after the dramatic incidents have occurred). As suggested by Johan’s halting of a pendulum, and later affirmed by an autumn leaf that mysteriously falls inside Johan and Marianne’s motel room, Silent Light may very well take place across several moments out of time—even the seasonal backdrop alternates to suit the particular crisis of the moment. At worst, Reygadas films his subjects with the indifference Bruno Dumont showed to landscape and character alike in Flandres. Yet his stalwart spiritual humanism is never completely subsumed: seeing Silent Light’s widescreen compositions writ large, I was amazed by Reygadas and cinematographer Alexis Zabe’s tendency to make a character’s eye (as opposed to the tip of their nose) the sharpest point of focus. This speaks to a profound philosophical intuition that, despite the preponderance of reflective surfaces and myriad windows(-to-the-soul), is only flimsily supported by the film containing it.
Keith Uhlich is co-editor of The House Next Door and a contributor to various print and online publications.