Silent Light

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Silent Light
Silent Light Cover.gif
French theatrical poster
Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Produced by Carlos Reygadas
Jaime Romandia
Written by Carlos Reygadas

Elizabeth Fehr
Jacobo Klassen
Maria Pankratz
Miriam Toews
Cornelio Wall

Peter Wall
Cinematography Alexis Zabe
Edited by Natalia López
Distributed by Palisades Tartan
Release dates
  • May 22, 2007 (2007-05-22) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • August 12, 2007 (2007-20-12) (Mexico)
Running time
127 minutes
Country Mexico
Language Plautdietsch

Silent Light (Plautdietsch: Stellet Lijcht; Spanish: Luz silenciosa) is a 2007 film written and directed by Carlos Reygadas. Filmed in a Mennonite colony close to Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua State, Northern Mexico, Silent Light is set in a Mennonite community and tells the story of a married man who falls in love with another woman. The dialogue is in Plautdietsch, the language of the low-German Mennonites. The film was selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 80th Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.[1] The film was however, nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 24th Independent Spirit Awards.[2]

Martin Scorsese called the film "A surprising picture and a very moving one as well."[3] It was awarded the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[4]


Silent Light begins with a long tracking shot of the sun rising over a beautiful plain. The protagonist, Johan, his wife, Esther and their children sit silently saying grace, after which each member of Johan's family departs from their home except for him. Once he is finally alone, he stops the clock on the wall beside him and breaks down crying. Next, Johan goes to work and discusses, with one of his colleagues, the fact that he is having an affair with a woman by the name of Marianne; he makes it clear to his colleague that his wife knows about the affair. Johan then leaves work to meet Marianne in a field, and they begin to kiss. In the next scene, Johan's children are bathing and playing along a riverbank while he and his wife watch. They call one of their children over to bathe her, and as they are doing so, Esther begins to cry; before the scene ends, the camera racks focus behind her to a purple flower, symbolically foreshadowing what is to come. Johan then tells his father about the affair, but when they step outside to discuss it, it is suddenly winter. The audience never discovers why, during this one particular scene in the film, the season has changed, but it does seem to fit into the movie's theme of inexplicable miracles. Johan's affair with Marianne continues as they have sex in a local hotel while Johan's children wait in a van with a stranger - someone that Marianne seems to know and trust. The climax of the film comes when Johan in driving in his car with Esther. She confronts him about the affair, tells him she is going to be sick, forces him to stop the car, and runs off with a blue umbrella telling him not to follow. She breaks down crying along the side of a field, has what the doctor later describes as "coronary trauma," and dies. At her wake, friends and family are there to serve as comfort. Johan visits her one last time, says his goodbyes, and goes outside for air. Marianne suddenly shows up at the wake and asks if she can spend a moment with Esther's body, which Johan allows. Marianne enters the room containing Esther's body, slowly kisses her on the lips, and drops a tear on her cheek. By the power of some miracle, Esther returns from the dead just as Johan's father sets the clock on a nearby wall. Johan breaks down once more, right before one of his and Esther's daughters informs him that "Mum wants to see him." Marianne leaves silently as Johan's prepares to enter the room in which Esther waits. The final few minutes of Silent Light consist of another tracking shot, this one of the sun setting, an image just as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than the film's opening scene.


Carlos Reygadas's films are known for their long sequences, slow rhythm, and use of nonprofessional actors. All the performers in Silent Light are Mennonites from communities in Mexico, Germany and Canada. The film was an international co-production by companies from Mexico, France and the Netherlands. The film is in part based upon the 1955 film Ordet by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer, which also features quiet pastoral farm scenes, ticking clocks, intentionally slow pacing, stretches of silence, wind in fields of grain, similarly named central characters (Johan and Johannes respectively), a focus on a large farm family and their home, a protagonist questioning the strict piety of his minister father, the death of this protagonist's wife in seeming connection with her husband's impiety, and, most saliently, her mysterious resurrection from the dead as brought about by a kiss.[5] It is not a strict remake of Ordet however, as there are numerous and substantive differences in plot, most notably the absence, in Silent Light, of a character central to Ordet: the prophetic mystic son who appears to be insane.



The film received a positive response from many critics. The Time magazine reviewer wrote that "All the scenes shine with a visual and emotional brilliance". Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film "an apparently simple story about forgiving" in which "the images are of extraordinary beauty", and said that "The characters seem to be illuminated from the inside." The reviewer of Le Monde wrote that "Reygadas's genius makes every moment sacred." The magazine Sight & Sound rated it number 6 on their list of the top films of 2007. Roger Ebert named the film one of the top ten independent films of 2009[6] as well as one of the best films of the 2000s.[7] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 89%, with a "Certified Fresh" rating.[8]

Top ten lists[edit]

The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008.[9]


References in Other Works[edit]

Some of the "making of" Silent Light appears in fictionalized form in the 2011 novel, Irma Voth, written by award-winning Canadian author, Miriam Toews. The novel is about a Mennonite teenager named Irma whose isolated existence is transformed when she is hired by a bohemian film crew that has come to her settlement to make a film about Mennonites. Toews was inspired by her own experience on the set of Silent Light, in which she plays the role of Johan's wife, Esther.[10] The film-within-the-novel is clearly Silent Light, and in that way Irma Voth provides additional insight into the dynamics of conflict and cooperation between the Spanish-Mexican film crew and the ultra-conservative Mennonites of the Cuauhtémoc Settlement where filming took place.[11]


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