Love and death, from Russia
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Oct 21, 2011
There are certain dreams where everything appears at once routine and bizarre. Maybe you're wandering through your childhood home, but the house happens to be underwater, on Mars.
"Silent Souls" carries that same familiar yet foreign feel. The Russian drama unfolds as a series of perplexing, fascinating snapshots, yet the predominant story about saying goodbye - to people and customs - are universal.
Aist is the poetic, gravelly voiced narrator, who spends much of his time meditating on the ways of his people, the Merja, a group of Finnish descendents living in modern-day Russia. After he learns that the wife of his friend Miron has died, the two men head off on a road trip to cremate the woman's body and spread her ashes where she and her husband spent their honeymoon.
The story of love and death offers the perfect excuse to survey the community's rituals. Before leaving town, Miron and Aist spend many wordless minutes meticulously preparing the deceased Tanya - undressing her and washing her, decorating her body with colorful threads and wrapping her in a blanket. They take great care, as if preparing a crystal vase for a long journey.
The two friends bring along a couple of birds Aist has recently purchased, and the chirps provide the soundtrack for what is largely a silent journey. Occasionally Miron begins to "smoke," which entails disclosing the intimate moments of one's relationship after his significant other has passed away. But as the title suggests, this is a quiet, almost meditative experience.
The visuals provide a curiosity shop of unforgettable displays. A floating bridge glides slowly across the surface of the water; a husband bathes his wife in vodka; a man hacks at a river's icy surface to submerge his typewriter; a boy's expressionless face hovers against a changing backdrop as his father rows away from shore. Director Aleksei Fedorchenko's chosen shots are equally memorable. As Miron and Aist drive along, the camera rests behind them, focusing on the back of their heads, while the view outside the windshield remains indistinct.
It reinforces the hazy plot, after a blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash of foreshadowing. Aist makes clear as the two leave town that major life changes are afoot, and that adds a dash of urgency to the gradually unfurling drama. Suddenly every tranquil and painstakingly artful shot holds the potential for a pinch to jolt the audience from its repose.
Contains nudity, images of death and sexual situations. In Russian with English subtitles.