Review: Silent Souls
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It's third time lucky for Director Aleksei Fedorchenko...
Russian Director Aleksei Fedorchenko's third feature - Silent Souls - is, as the name suggests, a quiet homage to the dead.
Aist (Igor Sergeev) is a 40 year-old photographer who collects “snatches” of traditional songs/rhymes, influenced by his deceased poet father. When his boss and friend, Miron (Yuriy Tusurilo), tells him his wife, Tanya (Yuliya Aug), has died the night before, he sets out on a road trip to help him put her soul to rest.
Silent Souls is an impressive second feature from writer, Denis Osokin, playing on traditional story-telling techniques to create a visual poem. His narrative lies intriguingly in past tense, occasionally using elements of the mystery genre to keep us guessing where the film will go. “It's one of those towns that no-one remembers these days,” says our narrator Aist, describing his home town, Neya, and leaving us to ponder what has changed. “I don't remember when or why it started,” he later says without ever elaborating on what the mysterious “it” actually is. Thinking back, he tells us they are leaving the area forever but don't intend to, forcing viewers to search for a reason.
Osokin uses his beautifully poetic script (“The sadness enveloped me like a mother... only love has no end”) to paint lively portraits of the important people in his lead characters' lives. Through Miron and Aist's intimate conversations, Aist's father and Tanya come alive. We learn Miron worshipped his younger wife and through “smoke” talk (personal conversation between friends turning “grief into tenderness”) start to form an unusual picture of their married life. Miron matter-of-factly tells Aist he would bathe her in vodka, order her to remove her clothes and that “all three holes were working - it was me who unsealed them”.
Miron's frank and explicitly sexual talk may be shocking in isolation, but in the context of Silent Souls quietly blends into an array of surprising cultural revelations. Osokin's story takes place among the Merjan people, where promiscuity is apparently rife. Early voice-overs explain how Finnish and Russian history intertwines and establish Aist as a traditionalist, keen to keep his culture alive.
By following his journey with Miron, viewers are given a very personal insight into aspects of the Merjan culture. The characters' tendency to use full names when referring to each other make them instantly endearing . As an outsider of Merjan society, watching Aist and Miron prepare Tanya's body is fascinating as they carefully tie threads into her pubic hairs that shall later be hung from an Alder tree. The silent preparation of her naked body is one of the film's most moving scenes - both men are shown tenderly and wordlessly removing her clothes, sponging her body and brushing her hair. Another memorable scene starkly contrasts when two young girls later ask Aist and Miron if they want them. Fedorchenko cuts to both girls lying naked side by side and Aist recalling: “we were very thankful to the girls.” In any other context his line would of course seem comical but in Silent Souls it's entirely in keeping with the film's very honest, reflective tone.
Fedorchenko uses flashbacks sequences to add another dimension to the deceased, showing a wedding scene, Aist's mother's funeral, Tanya at work in the paper mill and her masturbating to rousing violin music. A series of flash photography stills are used to establish Aist's profession and lengthy shots of the road behind symbolise loss and the past. His soundtrack remains suitably traditional, favouring Russian folk music and culminating in volume during the burning of Tanya's funeral pyre where Miron must accept his grief.
Silent Souls is a slow thoughtful film full of warm memories of devotion and idolisation. Osokin's script and understated performances from the leads are its greatest strength, allowing us to experience a bond with the dead merely from evocative memories. Through Aist, Osokin shows a real fondness for the film's setting and makes several thought-provoking observations about funeral rites, the concept of rebirth, the destructiveness of urbanisation and the importance of preserving culture.
Fedorchenko's ending is neat and suitably poetic...but also fairly weak, drawing criticism from what is otherwise an intriguing and powerful film.
Director: Aleksei Fedorchenko
Writer: Denis Osokin
Release Date: June 22 2012
Studio: Artificial Eye
Running Time: 75 mins
Starring: Yuliya Aug, Larisa Damaskina, Olga Dobrina, Yuriy Tusurilo, Igor Sergeev
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