Thursday, February 04, 2010

Dream of [Silent] Light

Last week, I went to see Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light at Cinematheque's Best of the Decade program. The film is as slow paced as it is astonishingly beautiful, the story of a Mennonite community in Mexico, where Johan (Cornelio Wall), a dutiful husband and father of seven, falls in love with Marianne (Maria Pankratz) even though he is married to Esther (Miriam Toews). The crew of non-actors (actually all real Mennonites from communities in Mexico and beyond) do some incredible work. There's a quiet stillness to the performances that transcends 'realism' and almost makes Silent Light seem like the world's most beautifully composed and thoughtfully filmed documentary.

For the past few weeks, I've been racing to "catch up" on films that might receive Oscar nominations so that I'd feel equipped to discuss the awards and make intelligent predictions. I've seen all ten Best Picture nominees (very rare for me - I usually average one out of five by the time the noms are announced). On the whole the exercise felt like the mental equivalent of eating five jumbo-sized bags of Doritos in one sitting. I felt bloated and gross, and Silent Light was the perfect antidote.

I've seen a couple of other Best of the Decade screenings since, and have at least five more to go, but I'm not sure any of them are likely to beat the therapeutic effects of Silent Light. Interestingly, a decade ago, when I attended the Cinematheque's Best of the 90s program, the balm-for-my-weary-soul winner was also a film with "light" in the title. Jason Anderson of EYE Weekly wrote recently:

"Ten years ago, my life was changed by a quince tree. I exaggerate, but not by much. Dream of Light — Victor Erice’s graceful film about a painter’s efforts to capture the sun-dappled beauty of a tree outside his home — was one of many movies that I discovered in the first months of 2000 by attending The Best of the Nineties at TIFF Cinematheque".

I feel exactly the same way about it - it was a revelation at the time, and remains one of the best films I've ever seen.

The two films, even though they have little in common in terms of plot or story, are not dissimilar. They're both about men wrestling with something quite ineffable - Johan's struggle to reconcile his love for his family and his love for Marianne is about as maddening, impossible and heartbreaking-yet-funny as painter Antonio López García's attempts to capture the light as it falls on his quince tree at a particular moment. As time passes, the quest itself begins to seem futile and a little ridiculous (see Garcia below, painting markings onto the tree and the fruits to remind him where everything hung before the quinces ripened and made the branches heavy). And yet, it's difficult not to feel a certain respect for anyone attempting the Quixotic task of forever capturing a fleeting ray of light, or, y'know, being true to two women at once.

Check out the rest of the Best of the Decade program over at the Cinematheque website.


aaron said...

I love Dream of Light. I'll have to catch this kinda sorta companion piece.

Why said...

Concerning both films, I couldn't agree more. And both must be seen on the big screen.