Just as the 2008 New York Film Festival’s about to get started, two of last year’s best entries, Silent Light and The Man from London, are finally getting something of a release in New York, at the Museum of Modern Art this week. To refresh your memory:
Michael Joshua Rowin on Silent Light:
Slowly but surely, Carlos Reygadas is becoming one of the great directors of our time. It’s unfortunate that his new Silent Light might disappoint some with its sober spiritualism replacing the bolder experiments of his first two (and better) films, Japón and Battle in Heaven, because to miss out on what Reygadas has attempted and succeeded here is to miss out on Reygadas’s development. It would be further sad if others were to mistake Silent Light as merely a tasteful improvement on the less pleasant content of Reygadas’s previous films. No, Silent Light is something unique, if not before unseen, and it should be recognized for what it is, rather than what others wish it to be.
Jeff Reichert on The Man from London:
Seven years ago Béla Tarr graced movie screens with Werckmeister Harmonies, the last visionary masterpiece of a dying century, or, perhaps more accurately, the first of a new one. The former label has been applied to Tarr’s 1994 epic Sátántangó as well, but where that film is a more specific chronicle of mass uncertainty as experienced from just beyond the edge of Communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe, the anxieties at the core of Werckmeister are less localized and thoroughly amorphous. Even though their roots sprout from the same milieu as Tarr’s prior opus, in Werckmeister they assume a more millennial character. It was a few years into the 21st century before the film approached widespread availability here, but watching Werckmeister then was, and still is, an uneasy if exhilarating prospect, marked as it is by elusive traces of an earlier time. Contrasted against the chaos, madness, and destruction in its narrative, the elegant pairing of Tarr’s phantasmagoric black-and-white imagery and composer Mihály Víg’s plaintive circular odes consistently awes even as the emotions they evoke unsettle. The film reaches masterpiece status because its scenario perfectly balances timeliness with timelessness, resulting in a work that manages a statement about turn of the century angst. And the technical mastery of Werckmeister can’t be overstated—if cinema has offered anything purer and more viscerally overwhelming, then I’m not aware of it.
Tarr’s is a heavy, maximalist vision, as ambitiously difficult as it is endlessly generous to the spectator willing to fully enter its embrace. Grand effect is most often the product of grand effort, and The Man from London, Tarr’s long-awaited follow-up to Werckmeister, arrives laden with a creation story marred by the suicide of a key producer, funding issues, massive investment in production infrastructure, and interminable delays.