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Unconditional Boredom in Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light (2007) December 2, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Mexican, Spanish Filmfest.


Mexican Title: Luz Silenciosa
Written and directed by Carlos Reygadas
Cast: Cornelio Wall, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews

This is your typical walkout film, its peculiar heaviness on the surface is reminiscent of Martin’s Now Showing, whose credit will be more attributed to experience than to its cinematic values, or conversely, as personal observation remains the most reliable source of argument, its torturous notoriety is enough to give someone an idea of the other side of cinema, that entertainment is relative, pain is a reward of art, and bemusement is the supreme modern criterion of Western appreciation. That I had forty winks and slept on writing this until now may be intentional on Reygadas’ part, a stroboscopic trick he sets up between the film’s bookends, from sunrise to sunset, what could be more representative of mankind’s vulnerability than its inferiority to time. Imagine an aged traveler who goes back to his homeland, he knows the way home but, in an unfounded quirk of chance, decides to walk a different path, owe it to experience for his tendency to digress, and after a week he has reached his destination, his house that commiserates with his tired mind and body, experience has told him that he is still a competent man, after all he has found home paving a path of his own, time is both god and evil, and now what can magnify his success even more than the idea of making it, despite everything, time throwing all the lonely traveler’s inhibitions away, like Silent Light, which makes more sense to me as an overly prolonged short film than a complete feature,  and without sounding too pragmatic since we are well aware that it will lead to that, the saintly yet casual resurrection, it feels tiring, far from rewarding in the end, to discover that we have been led to a longer way than we expected, that we can get there without the nerves in our muscles closing up.

It slackens from the scrupulous attention given to its shots; it seems to be more obsessed with daydreaming than confronting the divinity of its subject. If it has meant to pay homage to Dreyer then I may have received the wrong message, other than the pain of waiting for the scene to finish and get over it, what keeps me on straining my eyelids is the quenching thought of getting more sleep at home now that it had me drooping for more than two hours, I am less sober as if I just downed a vodka, but again it can always be intentional, my medulla oblongata playing tricks on me, my feelings betraying me, sending yawn signals when I should be paying more attention. That is why among past, present, and future, I am more inclined to favor the present – – the past and the future can deceive me – – but the present can never escape its dishonesty, only when it turns into the past I shall lose my power over it.

There is this dialogue in F. Sionil José’s Sherds between a disciple and a master, when Guia accidentally breaks her teacher’s celadon bowl and apologizes to him, then discovers, in his assured way of suggesting to her not to worry profusely, that it is a fake antique piece. She asks how he can be sure that a particular plate is genuine. He answers, by way of sharing a timeless joke, that before there was this collector who had purchased a very costly porcelain plate and he wanted to know whether it was genuine or not so he consulted an expert, an old man who said to him, “It is really very difficult to tell. You just have to trust your instincts and the man from whom you got it.” The collector refused to hold his defenses back. The connoisseur wittingly retorted, “Drop it. The sound will tell you whether it is genuine or not. . .” That death is an assurance, the ultimate test of everything, is an existential burden only reserved to humans; elephants and kangaroos never bother themselves in knowing. Silent Light belongs to the cinema of the brain-dead, the comatose, the paralyzed, the vegetative state, whatever you call it, but it also puts forth the notion that there is dearth in death, dying is an incomplete regency, putting more emphasis on the lucid difference between blank and empty, our final discernment in life, shown to us in intolerable spiritual pomposity.



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