Monday, September 27, 2010

NYFF Review: Silent Souls

Silent Souls
Directed By Aleksei Fedorchenko

            Have you ever heard of the Merjon people of Russia? In Silent Souls, director Aleksei Fedorchenko traces some of the rituals and customs of this ancient Russian tradition, in a narrative that is almost as compelling as the traditions are, which sad to say, does not bode well for both parties.
It’s hard to know if some of these customs—some of them extremely misogynist and offensive—are actual realities, or if Mr. Fedorchenko has taken a very poetic license; They haven’t managed to get a Wikipedia page up yet to explain this all. Of course, the real issue with Silent Souls is that Mr. Fedorchenko wants to tell us about these customs, but never cares to invest a narrative in them as well.
We begin with Aist, a middle-aged and alone Russian man, going to work, in almost a Malick-like fashion of voiceover. And then Miron, he best friend, informs them that his wife is dead, and the two must travel 1,000 miles to perform an ancient ritual. This ritual includes braiding ties to the woman’s pubic hair, rubbing her naked body in vodka, and burning it, while pouring bottle after bottle of vodka onto it.
None of this is really explained well, but Mr. Fedorchenko, who must be a descendant of the tribe, is fascinated by the process, and shoots it accordingly. He finds this all to be a lyrical poem, and his compositions are quite picturesque, if rarely making much sense in the purpose of the narrative, which falls completely behind. We aren’t really given any entry into Aist nor Miron, who travel often in silence, and Aist only uses his narration to explain customs, in the hopes we are less offended by some of the sequences or revelations revealed.
But Mr. Fedorchenko is in love with his symbolism—water, chipping birds, and doubling to name a couple—and thus he forgoes any narrative cohesion for a conclusion that should provoke mocking more than tranquility. On the plus side, Silent Souls runs a brief 75 minutes, so this crash course on why Russians can be offensive people and pass it off as “culture,” comes to an end not a minute too soon. 

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