I’ve gone from seeing zero Carlos Reygadas movies to seeing two in the past week. Silent Light is an especially major and transcendental work, one that I often see on those countless “Best Films of the Century So Far” lists and, honestly, it’s hard to argue with the acclaim.
Beginning with a sunrise, silence and a prayer as a family say grace before eating, the film unfolds like a steady heartbeat. The story loosely concerns a husband and father in a Mennonite community, Johan (Jacobo Klassen), as he deals with the guilt of an affair he is undertaking with a local woman. He drifts between family and friends and ruminates on the state of things. Emotion drives the environment, not logic. When he gets some bad news from his father, the scenery is suddenly covered with heavy snow. When Johan and his wife have an argument, an apocalyptic downpour takes place, mirroring the desperate sobs of his wife as she clings to a tree for solace. The sound design favours the nature, with the sound of rain cranked up so high that the raindrops become like machine-gun fire. It is one of those movies that is utterly FELT, deep in your bones and your soul. When a character inexplicably returns from the dead in the final scenes, the way the colour slowly fades back into her face and the presence of a single tear on her cheek are details that feel monumental. Breathtaking.
Reygadas composes everything in superb 2.35 : 1 frames too, occasionally pushing in or going handheld with proper specificity, adding a painterly, almost God-like view of everything. It feels like a religious film. Though it does not explicitly concern itself with such things beyond the Mennonite setting, like Bergman or Dreyer, the omnipresence of something is felt. Is that presence Reygadas, or just the power of cinema in general? Either way, the hovering weight in every cut and between every frame moved me something fierce.
Getting a feel for Reygadas’ tempo and sensibility over these two films – Silent Light and Post Tenebras Lux – has been quite wonderful. His penchant for casting real people, not actors, in all the roles (much like Bresson before him) adds an authenticity to all of the performances. Both these movies feel fantastic and sensual, though where Post Tenebras Lux is crueller, this one feels like a forgiveness. For what, again, I cannot say. It’s just a feeling. When a clock disassembled in the first scene is repaired in the last and the camera once again retreats to an exterior to witness an extended sunset, everything comes full circle. The prayer is finished. Dare I say masterpiece? I dare.