Silent Light (Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany, 2008, C. Reygadas)
This has to do with the difference between the desire to be given that old time religion and the desire to have your cup runneth over with new age spiritualism. Silent Light takes an almost secular, personal psychological approach to its thematic concerns. The force of theologically grounded faith or lack thereof is only a faint treble figure in the counterpoint, not an inescapable bass line. In Ordet, it is not just an inescapable bass line. Jesus, it's the whole score! The film is a social expansion of what in The Passion of Joan of Arc is literally distilled down to the very flesh of a single woman's face; namely, that only the pure of heart have real faith.
New age spiritualism is to be applauded for not encouraging bloodshed but at the same time it is itself so much bloodless bullshit at the end of the day. Give me that old-time religion. Mealy-mouthed metaphysical musings that decline to posit any sort of deity - not necessarily monotheistic, pantheistic entities or even animistic fairies will do - are not allowed to borrow the symbolic archetypes and narrative tropes that in theistic religion compel it to answer the fundamental questions that new age spiritualism does not even have enough hemoglobin to ask. Literally brought back from the dead? Mistakenly thought to be dead but really just comatose? A ruse concocted by the women to bring the man back to his family? It matters. It really matters folks. Because the man on the street needs a miracle.
Ordet delivers a miracle. It's ontological commitment is empirically demonstrated. The woman is literally brought back from the dead. She is resurrected because she really believed and her nutty brother-in-law really believed and her sweet daughter really believed, these three having just enough innocent faith to cover the whole community - indeed, to reunite the community as a whole; previously divided by sectarianism, disbelief and doubt, as well as some secularism and virginal ignorance to boot. The remarkable thing about Ordet, is that it is about a collective and public conversion or salvation by way of a miracle that satisfies the demands of empiricism properly understood. Rather than some purely subjective and individualistic miracle, Dryer stares down the utter absence of generally acknowledged divine revelation in the modern age and presents an objectively corroborated miraculous experience as a matter of fact perceptible by common sense.
I repeat, Silent Light is a beautiful film. The reviewers who found the long shots frustrating or even boring are
aesthetic dullards. And even though I must ultimately dismiss the film theologically, I do want to acknowledge that the redemption coming off the story moved me. With respect to this, it reminded me of Babet's Feast in that both films advance the moral validity of physical being and sensual love in the context of an otherwise erotically austere social environment that nevertheless has its own equally valid expressions of togetherness and trust. The most uplifting aspect of Silent Light for me is the final coming together of the two women.
While I hear what you are saying about Silent Light’s new agey-ness, I think you undersell the film’s emotional potency. No doubt, the spiritual aspect of this community is not as clearly defined as that in Ordet; in fact, there is little overt reference to the religious aspect of this community, and this does seem an odd choice for a film dealing with matters this potentially incediary, particularly when it appears that a great many people in this tiny Mennonite community appear to be aware of the adulterous relationship that forms the central conflict of this drama. You would think a community this tight knit, and founded on a faith that prohibits such behaviour and threatens eternal damnation for those who engage it in would be a bit more concerned about matters of this sort, and attempt to intervene, if not for the sake of the trangressors, then for the sake of those transgressed--the wife and six children. Stranges days indeed. Most peculiar, mama. Further, I agree that this lack of moral clarity muddies the film's miracle, while the very same clarity and certainty is at the very essence of Dreyer's Ordet (more or Ordet in my next review).
Throughout the film, Johan struggles with his faith, wondering if his deep passion for Marianne, depicted in some very effectively sensually charged and erotic scenes, is evidence of Satan's hand at work, but ultimately finding himself powerless to walk away from it, as Marianne attempts to do the right thing and unearth the strength to send Johan on his way, and back into the arms of his wife. Scenes involving these three characters are the emotional highlights of the film, as each (Cornelio Wall as Johan, Miriam Toews as his wife and Maria Pankratz as Marianne) delivers an honest and affecting performance that casts their character's torment in high relief. When a heartbroken Marian holds her hand up to the sun (drawing on its power?) to send Johan back to his wife, or Johan breaks into a weeping jag at the breakfast table, and later when Esther wails her pain in the woods, it is hard not to be both shaken and moved by the agony of their situation.
The film’s bookends are also worthy of note. They work thematically, emphasizing the inevitability of time’s passage, the rhythms of pastoral life and labour, and the harmonious beauty that is awakened and put to sleep over the course of each day. Cinematographer Alexis Zabe delivers some widescreen shots of rare beauty, as the camera gently strokes the landscape in quiet pans, while sunspots flare on the lens to create a near three-dimensional effect, while the film unfolds quietly, via a series of extended takes which invite us to settle into the this world, and take on these people's woes. The film's aesthetics are remarkable.