Sep 15, 2011

Silent Souls (2010): B+

Water and death are the two most recurring objects in the thematically dense Silent Souls, a film that suggests the final ripples of a forgotten culture but nevertheless unfolds with ethereal, quotidian ease. Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo) and Aist (Igor Sergeev) remember and continue the ways of the Merja people, a group that was assimilated into larger Russia centuries ago; when Miron's wife, Tanya (Yuliya Aug), passes away, the two prepare her body and embark on a trip to deliver her back to the earth: first by fire, then by water. Aist narrates throughout, often contextualizing the events with cultural footnotes, but frequently the time passes silently (Andrei Karasyov's score seems to exist outside the film, like an emotional shock absorber), the deliberately unfolding events acting as a kind of mental fishing net in which ten different viewers might find ten different experiences of equally profound worth. Handheld, inobtrusive long takes readily accrue a dreamlike quality, and the film invites as much as it packs the mysteries of the universe into a brief running time; the fluidity is as musical as it is visual. A pair of birds - buntings, small, like sparrows - accompany this frequently spontaneous journey, in which past and present converge in ways both odd and oddly fitting. In an unforgiving, unfriendly world (the wet browns and dull greys of winter are so entrenched that a cut to sunshine-tinged scenery is positively jarring), loves stands above all, from the intimate wedding practices around a bride to a moving flashback in which Miron bathes Tanya in vodka. An elusive, poignantly earthbound odyssey.

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