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In the light of eternity

07 May 2008

by Stephen Brown

Maria Pankratz as the mistress, Marianne

Maria Pankratz as the mistress, Marianne

In the light of eternity: Silent Light (2007, Cert. 15, Tartan Video DVD Collection) is a beautiful film set among the Mennonites living in Chihuahua, Mexico, since 1921. Named after its founder, Menno Simon, this 16th-century Christian sect spread from Holland. Its congregations uphold believers’ baptism and reject involvement with secular power.

Among themselves, they continue to use Plaudietsch, a German dialect that the director, Carlos Reygadas, neither speaks nor understands. While his amateur cast’s acting is more stolid than solid, the film succeeds through the space between the words.

The film begins with a magnificent sunrise. It was filmed in real time — without any CGI — from a starlit opening to the fullness of day. Through artful editing, a feeling of never-ending eternity is conveyed in barely five minutes on screen. The sequence concludes with sight of a clock — humanity’s attempt to impose order on the universe.

Its pendulum’s mirrored surface reflects a family at prayer. But wild forces are ever present, manifested primarily through the father’s desire for another woman. He shares these feelings with his wife, a friend, and his father, none of whom is heavy-handed or prescriptive. Remarkably, there is little eye contact in the whole film, except between the illicit couple.

Amid a torrential rainstorm, the community’s envy or fear of such passion is absorbed by the bewildered wife. It takes a miracle for reconciliation to become a possibility. It means the day can now end, as it began. Everything in the film has been bathed in the silent light of eternity.

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