Friday, October 14, 2011

CineCaché: Silent Souls

Man, you go from a free screening of an American movie from a major studio's boutique arm that has standees in the multiplexes to charging ten bucks for an independent Russian movie from a tiny distributor, and suddenly the crowd goes from a full house to about a dozen of us. A shame, because Silent Souls is pretty good.

As per usual with CineCaché reviews, this one contains some insights that I can't honestly claim are mine alone, because there is a nice discussion afterward and my mind is sort of like a sponge. The bit about the bridges is mine, though, and surprisingly, I actually came up with it while watching the movie. That's unusual for me, to be honest - I'm usually the guy who doesn't say a whole lot in the post-film discussion but figures something out with a bit of thought afterward.

This is probably an argument for just how accessible Silent Souls actually is; I'm generally not a big "symbols" guy. Or you could argue that if you keep showing me bridges, I'm eventually going to make the connection, and there are a lot of bridges in this movie: The second shot is a memorable pontoon bridge, a wall mural with little twinkling lights in the background of one scene has a bridge figure prominently in it, and then there are enough that I find myself counting them.

Ovsyanki (Silent Souls)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 October 2011 in the Brattle Theatre (CineCaché)

Silent Souls is an art-house movie, more obviously filled with more symbol than story; it's deliberately oblique at times. In many cases, movies like that want more from their audiences than they're willing to give, but this one does a good job of laying out the knowledge needed to interpret it. It's worth the effort.

Aist (Igor Sergeev) is a 40-year-old resident in the town of Neya with more interest than some in his Merjan heritage, explaining to us how Merja was a Finnish region that Russia absorbed centuries ago. His people, he explains to us, are quiet and stoical, which explains why there is relatively little wailing when his friend and co-worker Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo) tells him that wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) has died, and he would like Aist's help with the traditional Merjan funerary rites. This involves wrapping her and driving back to her home village so she can be cremated.

Screenwriter Denis Osokin and director Aleksei Fedorchenko don't play particularly coy here; when a road movie opens with a shot of two squawking birds in a cage, it's a pretty clear signal to the people in the audience that they should pay as much attention to background as the characters, because that's where a lot of information is going to be found, even if it is metaphorically encoded. It's also not long before we start getting a lot of narration that is likely lifted directly from Aist Sergeyev's short novel The Buntings, and while it can be bad form for a movie to lean too heavily on that, it's more tolerable than usual here, as Aist's words are less frequently telling the story than describing Merjan tradition. Some of that winds up just being memorable trivia (go ahead, try and forget what Merjans do on their wedding day), while other bits are information helpful in understanding what's going on visually.

Full review at EFC.

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