Posted by: kfugrip | October 8, 2007

Ninety-five: Stellet Licht

I found this movie quite difficult to review and as such have let it languish for longer that I would ever have wanted.

This is my second movie in a row that starts with a long single take, and this one was equally as beautiful and moving. The first shot of Stellet Licht, directed by Carlos Reygadas, begins on the night sky, stars sometimes obscured by clouds, and makes a slow descent on what appears to be the blackness of tree branches against the clouds. Then we watch the sun rise and the colors transform the landscape. The camera pushes in to a shot that could have been lifted from nineteenth century American painting. It’s a beautiful and meditative way to open a film that concerns spirituality.

Stellet Licht, or Silent Light in English, is about a Mennonite family living in northern Mexico. Johan, the family’s patriarch, has fallen in love with another woman and is having an open affair with her. This film is about the effects of this forbidden love on the spiritual life of Johan and his family. I know next to nothing about the Mennonite doctrine and worship, so this would be a learning experience.

What I liked: The film was beautifully shot, from the aforementioned opening shot to the fade out at the end. Reygadas chose to show the details of life as a Mennonite farmer, the machinery that milks the cows, washing the children’s feet, singing associated with mourning, all these things add up to a convincing portrait of Mennonite life. The shots are all so well composed that I marveled at every one of them. Reygadas knows how to craft a film and how to compose a shot, what’s not to like about that?

All of Reygadas’ tools are used to show the spiritual crisis that befalls this man and his family. It compares favorably with Tarkovsky and Bresson in this way.

What I didn’t like: Those well composed shots sometimes do not flow together. They appear like a series of photographs with little connection. While the performances are understated, which I like, they seem to come from poor acting at times, instead of a creative choice to underplay. I may be off on this assesment because I’ve seen Battle in Heaven and the performances there are underplayed by non-actors, but I think the film would have benefited from stronger actors. That being said it is a minor element because the film is no less effective with those performances.

The film is a bit cold in it’s efforts to depict the transcendental. It is a difficult thing to show and Reygadas does a fantastic job.

In all the movie was interesting and moving.

4 stars.




  1. That was a great review. Thanks. I think I may check it out. -koski

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