Stellet Licht

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Carlos Reygadas’ films are weird. They have a delayed effect. This is how it works: First you watch it and feel confused, or even offended. You keep watching the film until the end, barely even blinking. Then, you wait for about an hour after it’s over and the “effect” kicks in. The movie keeps playing in your head, making more sense each time. Before you know it, you’ve fallen in love with it… Or you simple don’t like it.

So when my editor at asked me to pick a movie to write about from a pile of Mexican titles coming to New York last week for the Hola Mexico Film Festival, I couldn’t resist the challenge of choosing Carlos Reygadas’ latest film,  Stellet licht (Luz silenciosa in Spanish.)

I remember watching Reygadas’ second movie – Battle In The Sky – with a handful of my friends when it premiered in New York in 2005. I had seen his first one,  Japón (2002),  so I knew what to expect, but most of my cuates hadn’t been exposed to this young Mexican director, so after the film, they claimed to have liked the movie very little. Yet, they couldn’t stop talking about it. So we sat and had some coffee over it, and by the time we ended our conversation, most of us agreed the movie was interesting to say the least.

His third film, Stellet Licht, winner of the Jury Award at Cannes in 2007, follows Reygadas’ now signature style of being uncomfortable, unpredictable and weird. Unless you are familiar with the Mexican Mennonite Community, while watching this movie you would swear you are watching a surreal film: an American-styled cowboy speaking some sort of German made-up language – in what appears to be Mexican landscape – is telling his brother that he’s been cheating on his wife with another woman, then gets in his Ford F-150 truck and starts driving in circles singing the Gipsy Kings’ ‘No volveré’. It all seems to be made up, but it’s not,…at least not completely.

This is no documentary, but it surely tries to picture a real-life situation in a real-life environment. The characters aren’t played by professional actors but rather real members of the Mexican Mennonite community, a group of Christians of German-Dutch descent.   The community consists of more than a million people spread throughout the world in at least 50 countries including Mexico, where some 40,000 members live mainly from farming, speak Plautdietsch, and have very little relationship with the Spanish-speaking world.

A rather common situation in the life of relatively simple people becomes visual poetry behind the camera of Carlos Reygadas. The story revolves around the personal conflicts of a nameless, family man (Jacobo Klassen) tormented by his feelings after falling in love with another woman. As usual in Reygadas’ films, very little action takes place, but each scene is charged with sensibility and realism that make you feel you are there. The story flows, peaks and ends beautifully. Some people might find it way too slow and so raw it is uncomfortable, but some would find it a masterpiece, even if it takes hours to realize after having finished watching it.