Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cornelio Wall Fehr, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews, Peter Wall, Jacobo Klassen
Written by: Carlos Reygadas
Directed by: Carlos Reygadas
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Plautdietsch, or Mennonite Low German, with English subtitles
Running Time: 142
Date: 05/22/2007

Silent Light (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Farmer Forsakes a Wife

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The controversial, elusive Mexican director Carlos Reygadas (Japon, Battle in Heaven) returns with his third, and most affecting, feature film.

A Mennonite farmer lives with his wife and his army of towheaded kids. One morning after breakfast, he takes a moment to weep alone in the kitchen before heading out to work. Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr) has fallen in love with another woman, Marianne (Maria Pankratz), even though his religion forbids it. He feels that Marianne is a better match and he often sneaks off to make love with her, though he shares everything with his devoted wife Esther (the Canadian writer Miriam Toews). Despite everything, Johan still has some tender scenes of affection with his wife, even though he's constantly tormented by doubt and confusion.

Reygadas films in the isolated Mennonite community with very little dialogue and lots of wide, natural space. In one scene, in a moment of rare joy (enjoying a song on the radio) Johan drives his truck around in circles, with the camera following dizzily from the center.

Reygadas opens and closes his film with sunrises and sunsets, scored with the music of birds and other early-rising creatures. It's a film of gorgeous poetry, sublime patience and unexplored territory; you have no idea where this brief encounter is going. It's a bit long, and sometimes emotionally grueling but ultimately worth it.

The DVD release from the new Palisades Tartan company comes in a gorgeous, widescreen transfer. Extras include a very good 35-minute making-of featurette, 7 minutes of deleted scenes, and a video interview with actor Cornelio Wall Fehr. Oddly, for such a quiet film, there are three audio mixes, 5.1, 2.0 and DTS. The box advertises "film notes by Jason Wood," but I'm not sure what this means. There are some brief liner notes, but they read more like a press release than anything else.

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