DVD Review: ‘Silent Light’ Rewards Those With Patience

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CHICAGO – Proving that its title is at least partially appropriate, “Silent Light” is loaded with torturous durations of quiet. The cinematographer shoots a landscape. A clock ticks and tocks. A family closes their eyes in prayer at the breakfast table. And for the first 10 minutes or so, you twist your face in bewilderment and wonder if writer-director Carlos Reygadas is playing an Andy Kaufman-esque prank on his audience, as if to say, “Go ahead. Stop watching. I dare you.”

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 4.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 4.5/5.0

Then a father breaks down in tears, dialogue starts trickling into the story, and it becomes clear that absolutely none of it was a joke. After a good half-hour, we understand that while the film’s characters are doing little and saying even less, their minds are always active to a strenuous degree. They dwell on their very painful problems, and thanks to the movie’s stubborn pacing, we’re forced to do the same.

Silent Light was released on DVD on September 8th, 2009.
Silent Light was released on DVD on September 8th, 2009.
Photo credit: Palisades/Tartan Video

It’s a joyless task but also one that reveals how respectful the film is toward people who have known a love that is equally terrifying and untamable, the kind that seems guaranteed to result in someone getting hurt. After all, when they hit, such extreme emotions don’t tend to pass easily. They can monopolize people’s thought at all times, including during the most mundane and tedious of tasks.

Silent Light was released on DVD on September 8th, 2009.
Silent Light was released on DVD on September 8th, 2009.
Photo credit: Palisades/Tartan Video

For Johan, a Mexican farmer in a Mennonite community, that means being helplessly focused on love while maintaining his fields. It means having it in his head as he bathes his children in a creek. It means being speechlessly lost in it while folding his hands and attempting to give thanks for a meal.

Johan (Cornelio Wall) is married to Esther (Miriam Toews) but has been having a long-term affair with Marianne (Maria Pankratz). Esther is aware of Marianne, and Marianne is aware of Esther. Yet the women swallow their anger and misgivings respectively and seem intent on having Johan decipher his true desires without much help.

Reygadas and his group of non-professional actors aren’t so bold as to request much sympathy for Johan, but they’re skilled and introspective enough to play fair with his feelings. Though giving into temptations might make him and Marianne selfish creatures, it would be inaccurate to deem them heartless human beings. The ache of their guilt is as palpable as their passion, and as they remove their shirts and simply hold their imperfect bodies close together, it’s obvious that theirs is a relationship built on something besides lust and convenience. Marianne succinctly calls their days as a couple “the saddest time of my life, but also the best,” and Johan can’t disagree.

Esther, meanwhile, is more than just a subject for her husband and his mistress to discuss in the third person. At one point, she flees into a pounding rain to weep and grabs hold of a tree as if it were her only lover. She barely utters a sentence while getting drenched by raindrops and tears. But like so many other moments in “Silent Light,” no words are required. We know she deserves better, and Johan knows it, too.

Special features on the DVD version of “Silent Light” include some seemingly aimless on-set footage and an informal interview with Wall. As a country singer, he apparently ain’t half-bad.

‘Silent Light’ is released by Palisades/Tartan Home Video and stars Cornelio Wall and Miriam Toews. It was written and directed by Carlos Reygadas. It was released on September 8th, 2009. It is not rated.

Staff Writer

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