A weirdly conceived combo National Geographic fatefully beyond the grave outing and rustic version of Sex And The City, Silent Light (Stellet Licht) probes the unhealthier sexual habits of an insular contemporary Mennonite religious community in rural Mexico. And while playing out in an exhausting nearly slow motion real time, the cinematic cultural turning of tables does fascinate, as an exotic dramatic glimpse of uptight gringo fundamentalists through Latino eyes.
Written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas (Japon, Battle In Heaven), Silent Light gives nearly equal weight to its archaic German speaking (Plautdietsch) nonactors and the exquisitely captured sights and sounds surrounding them in their natural primeval habitat. Which tends to dwarf the dramatic conflicts, already muffled in great part by these radically inhibited and internalized characters. Though one must wonder if this is a reflection of cultural authenticity, or unavoidable two-way-street stereotyping from an outsider’s perspective.
Silent Light focuses on the plight of Johan (Cornelio Wall), a Mennonite farmer with a houseful of children and a wife Esther (Miriam Toews), that he cherishes but for whom his sexual impulses no longer, shall we say, rise to the occasion. And Johann has seemingly against his will and better judgment, consummated an attraction to a local and eagerly willing single woman and tourist restaurant entrepreneur, Marianne (Maria Pankratz), but with complete honesty about this affair shared with his brokenhearted though resigned wife. And Johan’s dad is no help in these matters, because when his perplexed son seeks the old man’s advice, Dad informs him that he had a roving eye as well, when the depressed lad was born.
Despite the profoundly tragic nature of this story, Reygadas seems to have some playful when not satirical mischief on his mind. The primary aspect here, being that love is truly blind. In other words, this mutually laconic middle-aged adulterous pair is comprised of paunchy Johan and homely, withered Marianne, while Esther is an obviously far more attractive and bubbly personality. So while Johan and Marianne go at it with overpowering sexual hunger, the audience is likely to simply not get it.
Then there’s the matter of pacifism, the primary social force guiding this antiquated community, and given nearly equal importance with their religious fervor. So while every character in this oddly muted triangle wallows in despair, nobody gets angry or lashes out. Though ultimately all pay a terrible price, not least of which is the suppression of rage as a deadly consequence, and nonviolence as apparently dangerous to your mental and physical health. Is Reygadas slyly intimating that pacifism can be as wrongheaded and unworkable a solution to human problems as violence?
Silent Light: Dubious anger management, born again beloved cadavers, Mennonite hot sex, and exoticized uptight when not frisky gringo fundamentalism through Latino eyes.