Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dying of a Broken Heart

Stellet Licht/Silent Light (2007) - Reygadas
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I’m still not convinced Carlos Reygadas is a great director. Yes, I get his Bressonian use of non-actors to convey real truth in human interactions. Yes, he is arguably one of the most technically daring contemporary directors that got me excited about current Latin American filmmakers. In Reygadas universe, those exchanges with true human feelings seem to be existing in extremes (and therefore everywhere?) – in Japon, it is in improbable September-December romance, in Battle in Heaven, it’s in btwn rich/beauty and poor/ugly. In Stellet Licht, it’s in an isolated Mennonite community in Mexico.

Johan, a Mennonite farmer, father of six, is having an affair with Marianne. He told his quietly suffering wife Esther when the affair began. He tells his father and best friend that he made a mistake marrying Esther because Marianne is a better match for him. Even though it's wrong, he just can’t end the relationship. It's been two years like that.

For Reygadas film, Stellet Licht is a surprisingly subtle one. It starts out with five minute long take of dawn breaking. The camera slowly rotates from the star studded sky down to the horizon then dollies slowly forward with the sound of barnyard beasts breaking its morning orchestra of insects: the scene is truly a virtuosic filmmaking. There are many measured, beautiful sequences throughout the film. His non-actors bring out some genuinely moving moments also.

Then the magic realism ending comes around and Reygadas leaves everything up to the audience to decide what to make of it. There are some indications to this conclusion- when Johan and Marianne were having one of their last rendez-vous in a small room, a leaf falls from the ceiling. Surely without that ending, the Stellet Licht is nothing but some technical brilliance and turgid melodrama. I haven't seen Carl Theodore Dreyer's Ordet which Reygadas pays an homage to. Maybe it's my cynicism that got a better of me. I just can't easily buy into films that someone dying of a broken heart anymore. I can see the beauty in the modern fairytale, but it's very hard to swallow.

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