Thursday, July 17, 2008

Some More Thoughts on "Silent Light"

One of the things that has haunted me the most about Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light is his unconventional use of mise en scène.

Typical film form tends to shy away from placing subjects in the dead center of the frame. That's Cinema 101, I was taught that in a high school broadcasting class. It works for talking heads on TV, but when framing a film or a photograph, it tends to be more aesthetically pleasing to place it off center, otherwise you have a shot that is flat, static, and boring. There are exceptions to every rule of course, but this is one that doesn't often get broken without good reason.

Silent Light, however, is filmed in such a way that nearly every subject is placed in the center of the frame. Often the subject may be at a slight angle, but for a great deal of the film the action takes place in the middle of the frame. The shot pictured above isn't quite what I am talking about, but notice how the two characters are positioned in such a way that the picture is almost perfectly symmetrical. It is that kind of unconventional framing that displays the rigidity of the characters' lives and their stiff, exercised emotions. They almost seem imprisoned by the frame.

Notice here in this shot, which takes place at a highly emotional moment, that the framing reverts back to a more conventional, off-center shot, using sight line direction to draw the audience's eyes in the direction the characters are moving toward the car across the screen. Their emotions have been let loose, and suddenly the film loosens its belt a little and allows a break in the rigidity of the framing.

Something like this wouldn't always work, but here it's a stroke of genius. It has an immediate singularity that distinguishes the film and adds gravity and weight to the characters without saying a word.

Also, despite the Christian beliefs of the characters, the God of the film seems to reach beyond that. Indeed, every frame of the film seems to be infused with the divine, especially the opening and closing shots, and the powerful final scene (which is heavily inspired by the final scene in Carl Dreyer's Ordet). I may not be a religious person, but the sense of something beyond ourselves that is present in this film is nearly overwhelming. It's a kind of "God is in everything" sense that seems more pagan or spiritual than specifically Christian, and I think Nick Plowman put it best when he said: "Without so much as an introduction, the much talked about opening shot establishes Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light” (”Stellet Licht”) as more of a transcendental contemplation elevated by a pantheistic evaluation than a high-art, austere glorification."

Pantheistic is the perfect description of the all-encompassing god of Silent Light, permeating every frame and every feeling, present at every turn - unspoken, soulful, silent, and beautiful.

Just like the film itself.

3 comments:

Sam Juliano said...

Wow, Matthew, you are really making me salivate with this infectious treatment. I just placed my order for it at Amazon.uk. Congrats on a superb aesthetic analysis. I will definitely get back to you after I see it.

nick plowman said...

Good for you Sam, I have done the same, mine arrived a week or so ago. Love it! Nice Matt :)

Matthew Lucas said...

Hope I don't get your hopes too high, Sam. But I hope you love the film as much as I did. I definitely think it's one of the ten best films of the decade so far.