Judge P.S. Colbert wonders, "Did the carpet match the Iron Curtain?"
"It's one of those towns that no one remembers today."
"The slogan of the film was tenderness. We wanted tenderness to be transformed into nostalgia; tenderness and nostalgia were to become synonymous with love."
That's Russian director Aleksei Fedorchenko, speaking of Silent Souls, his third feature; a surreal and beautifully photographed cinematic blend of tender nostalgia and bleak modernity that packs more punch into its scant 75 minutes than most films do in twice that time.
Based on Aist Sergeyev's novel "Ovsyanki" (also the film's original Russian title—literally translated as "Buntings"), Silent Souls begins with narrator Aist (Igor Sergeyev) recounting his impulsive decision to buy a pair of the caged birds for companionship. Fortyish and without family, Aist works at the Paper Mill in Neya, a tiny industrial burg—once a glorious foothold of the Meyra ("a Finnish tribe that dissolved into the Slavs some 400 years ago"), but now a sad wasteland of crumbling, decrepit structures on the right bank of the Neya River.
Mill director Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) calls Aist to his office and informs him that his young wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) has died the night before, and that he wishes to commit her remains to the Oka river (near the couple's honeymoon spot), according to ancient Meyran traditions. Aist agrees to help prepare the body and accompany his friend for the long trip to Tanya's final resting place.
According to Aist, the people of the region cling tenuously to their Meyran roots by observing certain ancient rites of passage. One of the most enduring is their funeral ritual, involving fire (the body of the dead is cremated on a funeral pyre) and water (where the ashes are scattered).
Unhurried, laden with mystic symbolism, and morose without apology, Silent Souls is a "road movie" unlike those found the western world, where the journey typically becomes an episodic jumble of big and little moments, while the destination represents a coda, usually unsatisfying for the travelers, the audience, or both. Here the road is long and often wordless, but the odyssey is no less revelatory. On the contrary, there is a unique, stoic power to this folk tale of grief without tears, and though present only in flashbacks (and as an unclothed, lifeless body), Aug manages to create a compelling principal character for Tanya, without ever speaking a word.
Zeitgeist Films delivers this other-worldly gem in high style, with a pristine standard def 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen print and equally valuable options for either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 surround sound. The theatrical trailer is included as an extra by default, and English subtitles are also available.
Though unrated by the MPAA, Silent Souls exhibits an unbridled sense of sexuality; strange but never perverse. This film isn't for fans of disposable entertainment (i.e. films that become pointless once the ending has been revealed) and would most likely be a pox on any American multiplex, but it's otherwise highly recommended to adult viewers interested in seeking out unconventional perspectives.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
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