Sunday, 24 August 2008

Silent Light & Polanski's Oliver Twist

Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas is a wonderful, beautiful film with only one major flaw, an over-reaching influence from an even more wonderful, even more beautiful film, Dreyer's Ordet. Ordet is the story of life, death and madness in an isolated farm, with the influence of religion spreading through the community as tragedy affects a family. Silent Light is the story of a farm-based family affected by a husband's infidelity. Throughout the film there is a subtle influence of Ordet, in the sense of farms, subtle use of religion, influence in imagery, but its never a problem, being used as a genuine influence rather than a crutch. Until the last five minutes where the film steals a famous section from Ordet, even though it has nothing to do with the story being told. I won't state what the steal is here but its such a blatant, destructive act that the fact that its played well doesn't help, as it kills the film, and your hold on the characters and mood.

Before that we have a film made up of many slow, subtle shots, all of them beautiful in different ways. We get to see the characters in life, the farmer, his wife and his mistress, slowly working on three people in the middle of a problem with no villains, everyone tortured by the complexity of confused feeling, changing needs and lusts, of responsibilities in life bringing decent people to breaking point. The film illuminates people trying to survive in life, using slow shots to suggest lives and clumsy interaction, people in normal life with hints of torment, giving subtle reaction suggesting inner life. At certain moments the film breaks out, focuses on one character in isolation, using landscape, lust and despair on a person's face over a few minutes in single focus to show character and situation. For two hours, with the simplest narrative, this is enough as people slowly give depth and emotion, as well as to give the knowledge that there is no way out. But the end has a lack of narrative or emotional resolution, refuses to suggest complexity. It simply ends by being a film allusion that backs away from what has been built, and is a horrible mistake. While it is forgivable after so much great work, it does lower respect for the film-maker, as lazy homage is the only way the director can finish the story. For the greater moments it's still a must-see of course. Watching Ordet too long before it is inadvisable.

Polanski's Oliver Twist is a terrific telling of Dicken's tale.. Following the amazing The Pianist, Polanski is all about the cruelty of life during Dicken's time, where survival warps those who manage, where there is little pity. Oliver Twist in this version is simply a character who eventually has a few bits of luck that allows him to escape poverty, while all others are left either dead or still begging in the street. Despite the bleakness of the world its a terrific entertainment. The story is clear and worked out within the world established, always using the quickly established details of environment to create complex worlds that allows the story to move on without letting any section drag. It also has terrific actors, all playing their parts low-key and very dangerous, as they are people who are living in small worlds but cannot understand much beyond their environment. They constantly make mistakes or misunderstand in ways that leads to tragedy. Fagin is simply a scrounger who ruins lives but is a coward who doesn't know better. The artful dodger is a ruined child, not a wonderful thief. Bill Sykes is a petty thief who simply doesn't have a clue and destroys everybody. It's a world where everyone kicks the person one rung below, save a few kind people who eventually rescue Oliver. It's a wonderful, unsentimental and complicated film.

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