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Roy Anker


Dazzle Gradually

Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas.

Young Mexican writer-director Carlos Reygadas remains, even after three films, a rather large puzzle—and a hotly controversial one at that. He says he left his lawyer-diplomat career after viewing films by Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Russian mystic filmmaker (Andrei Rublev), and he also claims the hefty influence of France's arch-Catholic Robert Bresson (The Diary of a Country Priest, The Pickpocket), the fellow who, more than anyone else, put on the cinematic map "transcendental style in film," as Paul Schrader titled it for his classic book. That bodes well for both seriousness and style, unless taken too far, and for that, an over-the-top artsiness, Reygadas has gotten huge flack. In one sequence he may well deliver long splendorous takes of a numinous nature, enough to make the jaded gasp and kneel right there in the theater. And in the next, well, porn—meaning fully graphic sexual display, stark and transgressive, especially in its lack of eroticism.

If that were not discombobulating enough, his most recent film, Silent Light, co-winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2007, tells with elegant respect the story of a Mexican Mennonite couple plagued by the husband's long-running love affair with another Mennonite woman (acted by non-professionals, Mennonites playing Mennonites). Predictable Reygadas is not, even for his hip art house acolytes, of whom there are plenty.

Whatever Reygadas' excesses in his first two films, Japón (2002) and Battle in Heaven (2005), Silent Light delivers a restrained story, sequential and understandable from start to finish, though the ending delivers a first-class jolt of amazement and character motivation, at least in part, stays puzzling throughout.

Here, in the most conventional of Reygadas' films, we mostly watch these unconventional people quietly living, seemingly contentedly, their very ordinary farm life. There is, as always, a rub, the broken part, and in this case it is Johan (Cornelio ...

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