Silent Light – Stephanie Oswald

Still image from Silent LightPhotograph by Stephanie Oswald

Photograph by Stephanie Oswald

Photograph by Stephanie Oswald

Photograph by Stephanie Oswald

Photograph by Stephanie Oswald

Photograph by Stephanie Oswald

Silent Light is a rather abstract and obscure film, but many of its themes actually feel quite real to me, or quite realistic. Part of my family comes from a region in the North East of France, on the border with Germany, where people have traditionally lived in an extremely austere way, and in which, to make a long story short – the Catholic Church has crushed many people’s lives. Forbidden love, sex and desire, and individual freedom made impossible by social rules – these are themes that are present in the film, and that I feel parts of my family must have experienced.

I have explored these themes with some of my photography in the past, and here are some photos that I took of a man’s house – a very religious man who came from the same region as me, in the North East of France (Alsace-Lorraine). The photos talk about the same themes as the film – religion, order, tidiness, men who can only be present as sacrificed beings and women who can only be present as saints. The little dolls at the beginning don’t dare to look at each other, and don’t survive the journey.

In an interview in BOMB Magazine, Carlos Reygadas said: “If you firmly believe in dogmas, you’ll never experience conflicts, but that’s reducing life to nothingness.” I very much agree with this, and I feel like Silent Light talks about a conflict that is resolved by going back to the norm, and as such, for me it’s a film about the death of the individual, and about going back to nothingness.


Stephanie Oswald is a film programmer at the Star & Shadow Cinema and blogs at Film and Beyond.


Silent Light – Gareth Evans

Field Notes

Image from Silent Light

Where shall we live?

Where, but in the moment of our bodies, tendered to another; this, our barter and our touch…


Each time that we lie down, each might be the last. Love’s work. A history made in rooms, this treaty cast between us. This hand that signs your skin with all the lace lines of my life. In rooms. And in the garden, in the fields, the gather of the glade, all those rooms without the fix of walls.

In this room, above the restaurant, a simple weekday afternoon. With children’s voices always somewhere, like the circling birds. The rare, slow surf of vehicles across the summer plain. You in this room. Solar, our encounter. All God’s space for this, that light must travel longest, silent miles to this our hourless bed, its coming so to honour us; arriving at your mouth with ceaseless gifts for quiet harvest. Ripple of the pilgrim on the casual wall, its breeze blown message for us only, here, and here, and now. The smear of you, a polish, on my thigh.

Barefoot in the avenues of grain, we walked and walk towards each other, smiling. We carry small, strong lamps in each, high alcove of our separate sight. My gaze becomes your stepping far into my head, until I watch myself in mirrors out through your own seeing of my breath. I rise and fall like bread, like hawks above the plough; I too in suspension as they wait for what will feed them, what will keep them living in the air.

I have stood in the great yards of the night and counted all the horses of the stars. Do you know Andromeda, two and a half million light years from this whole earth, and from my holy retina, sacramental, glancing on your truth. How far this eye can see without assistance… Soon you shall be further from me than its fine, faint gleam. Easier it shall be for a galaxy to know me then than you, whom I must untenant in the pastures and the public ground and in my own bright soul. We are no more one thing, meeting in itself entire.

Oh, our naked eyes. We said, this shall be our faith, this, our common prayer. Shelter in the steeple of my hands…

I am…

I stand between the scales. I stand upon the threshold of the clock. I am what most unravels you; uproots you like a storm in stampede sky. Do you understand my face? It is only the grain of all the wood I am. Years inside this bone tree like the fire inside a match. You are roof beam, wall and floor to all your growing family. I am singled as the larch that lingers near the bathing water pool. I drank from my own cup, from the solitary stream of uncalled days. Until I drank from your held hands, and what they held… was me.

I am Marianne. I saved you from… from what? From all you felt at the daily table of the morning world, in the ticking kitchen, from the tide of loss, of fear, of missing the knowing that you knew, had known the meeting in your own life, in the learning place. Our meeting, fleeting, there…

So we met. And all that came to pass. Until I salved another from the very final bed.

Still, life.

I have come through. And you, and she and all born after, with your blessed name.

In this one place, our storied time among the trees, silent in the light that reaches now and now again from all the distant halls, and calls…

Oh, we were…

Come through.


Gareth Evans is a writer, editor and Film Curator at Whitechapel Gallery, London. He produced Grant Gee’s acclaimed essay film Patience (After Sebald), curates the PLACE festival at Aldeburgh Music, Suffolk and edits the journal Artesian.

Silent Light – Jason Wood

Still image from Silent Light

With the likes of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu amongst his admirers, Carlos Reygadas has emerged in recent years as the Mexican filmmaker’s filmmaker. Moreover, with his previous two features – Japón (2002) and Battle in Heaven (2005)he proved himself amongst the most distinctive voices in contemporary world cinema. An uncompromising vision of human folly, Reygadas’s Battle in Heaven, for all its virtues and its gritty use of Mexico City locations, drew criticism for its provocative tone and the director confessed to wanting a calmer pitch for his next project. Screened to rapturous acclaim in Cannes, where Reygadas won a much deserved Jury Prize, Silent Light remains to my eyes the Mexican’s most assured, visually accomplished and least contentious feature yet.

Set amidst a Mennonite community in Chihuahua, northern Mexico, the minimalist narrative focuses on the plight of Johan (Cornelio Wall Fehr), a respected husband and father who breaks the rules of his society by embarking on an affair with another woman (María Pankratz). Johan has been honest with his wife (Miriam Toews) about his adultery, but this does little to reconcile the conflicts raging within him. Inspired by primal, Neo-Biblical imagery and the work of Dreyer (whose Ordet is directly referenced though some may say ‘lifted’) Silent Light is a moving mediation on love and betrayal. Shot almost entirely in the Mennonite’s traditional Plautdietsch language and shorn of sexual explicitness, Reygadas again uses non-actors to superlative effect, casting for their Kuleshov-like expressiveness and teasing out performances of remarkable intensity.

Working for the first time with cinematographer Alexis Zabé (Duck Season) and using only natural light, the film is a visual and spiritual tour de force. The opening and closing six minute time-lapse photography sequence revealing a night sky as it slowly turns from dawn to daybreak is a breathtakingly executed cinematic moment. Quite frankly, one could never tire of viewing it. A profoundly spiritual work of both depth and complexity, Silent Light cast quite a shadow over the landscape of world cinema.


Jason Wood is director of programming at Curzon Cinemas.  He has contributed to many publications including The Guardian, Sight and Sound and The New Statesman and is author of the of 100 Independent American Films and 100 Road Movies.