Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light by Lena Valencia

Set in a Mennonite community in picturesque Northern Mexico, Silent Light is the story of a conflicted married Mennonite man, Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), who is in love with another woman.

Silent Light 1

Still from Silent Light, 2007.

Fans of Carlos Reygadas’ Japón and Battle in Heaven, take note: there are no bird strangulations or obese people having sex in this film. Set in a Mennonite community in picturesque Northern Mexico, Silent Light is the story of a conflicted married Mennonite man, Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), who is in love with another woman.

The drama takes a backseat to breathtaking scenery, but this seems appropriate for a film about a culture of farmers that shun most modern-day technology and live off the land. Nature permeates almost every scene: Johan embraces his mistress Marianne (María Pankratz) on a hilltop overlooking a field of flowers, a single red cedar leaf mysteriously spirals from the ceiling of a room. Emotional outbursts are few and far between as Johan’s wife silently grapples with his infidelities, and Johan internalizes most of his own struggle. As in his other films, Reygadas uses non-actors, this time Mennonites from Germany, Canada, and Mexico. Two-plus hours of stunning visual candy with very little dialogue may not be much of a treat for some audiences, however, and the film does begin to sag a little past the halfway mark before finally picking up again.

Reygadas plays with the themes of time and the seasons, both important in the life of a farmer, but also used as symbolic devices for something more constant, such as nature or God, and the commandments that Johan is disobeying. The film starts with a sunrise accompanied by the cries of animals and Johan stopping the pendulum of his dining room clock, however, despite his attempts to stop time (or God, or perhaps just stop the annoying ticking noise that represents the passage of time and God). By the end of the film the clock is fixed and the sun sets in the same manner it rose, animal cries and all: one constant, silent light.

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