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Custom-Made: Alexei Fedorchenko’s “Silent Souls”

Custom-Made: Alexei Fedorchenko's "Silent Souls"

There’s a voiceover buzzing through Alexei Fedorchenko’s brief, impressionistic, and sentimental Silent Souls, and it’s eager to tell you how to absorb what you’re watching. The voice belongs to Aist, presumably a constructed cinematic alter ego of writer Aist Sergeyev, whose novel The Buntings provided the basis for the film. And there’s no denying the novelistic approach the film takes to its storytelling—it relies heavily on its narrator to inform the viewer of the significance of its environment and history. Fedorchenko seems to have been concerned that otherwise we might not be persuaded of the magic inherent in the traditions of the people at its center: the Meryans, a Finnish-Ugric tribe assimilated into Russia for hundreds of years who nevertheless maintained a spiritual connection to their ancestry through rituals and language. In this bleak drama of love after death, two contemporary Russian men of Meryan descent enact an ancient funereal rite of passage on a devoted wife. There’s an undeniable dramatic thrust to the tale, but the film is too impressed with its own elegiac minutiae, and so convinced that its audience will be awestruck by its characters’ resolute adherence to a departed way of life, that it leaves viewers as little more than passive observers. Read Michael Koresky’s review of Silent Souls.

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