NYFF 2007: Silent Sunshine, Secret Light (STELLET LICHT and SECRET SUNSHINE)

By tully | "Boredom at Its Boredest" by Michael Tully October 4, 2007 at 10:13AM

NYFF 2007: Silent Sunshine, Secret Light (STELLET LICHT and SECRET SUNSHINE)

Yes, it's 5:18am and I have to get up at 8:03. Yes, in addition to watching tomorrow morning's press screening of Alexander Sokurov's ALEXANDRA, I have to paint an entire apartment (wait, did I just say "tomorrow morning"--that's a good one!). Yes, I stayed out way too late tonight. But the situation demanded it, and although I am a poor, old man, I had to rise to the occasion. One day I won't be able to experience any of these fun nights and although my brain might not be there to remember what it's missing, I will still miss them nonetheless. So that is why I chose to partake. And partake some more. And partake just a little bit more. Tomorrow is going to hurt. Tomorrow always hurts. Put that in your jukebox and dance to it.

Unfortunately, today's post might seem a tiny bit familiar. I must have somehow accidentally deleted Tuesday's recap of STELLET LICHT and SECRET SUNSHINE, so I wanted to make it public again to let the world know what I think about these special films.

And without further ado, let us return to Tuesday...

Carlos Reygadas' STELLET LICHT screened for the press last Monday morning, kicking off a jam-packed week that featured such heralded titles as 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS, SECRET SUNSHINE, THE FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON, THE MAN FROM LONDON, LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, and many more. But one week later, the film that I can’t seem to shake is STELLET LICHT. I would prefer to watch it again before writing about it, but time isn’t going to allow that and I want to spread the word as widely as possible since its first screening is tonight.


So far, STELLET LICHT is my favorite film of this year’s NYFF. The opening shot is worth the price of admission alone, and has me clamoring to see it again. Whereas the stilted performances completely ruined any chance of me embracing BATTLE IN HEAVEN, in STELLET LICHT I felt like this was some sort of mysterious advantage. STELLET LICHT shares very much in common with the films of Bruno Dumont, and while it does feel like the work of a gifted filmmaker trying to recreate masterworks of the past (Dreyer and Malick, to name two), I personally didn’t feel wafts of pretension emanating off the screen (which happens in every second of every Dumont film). This felt like someone who was really trying to tap into something simple yet profound, and Reygadas damn near pulls it off and launches himself into the master-stratosphere.

I’ve been reading a good bit about the film, but no one has commented yet on the literal silent light that I saw when I watched it. During the incredible opening shot (seriously, it’s one for the ages), as the camera slowly pans past the stars in the sky, one star moves within the frame. At first, I thought it was an airplane. But then this star/light/whatever makes its way to the bottom of the frame as the camera pans down and settles on a field of grass. And it stays there. Initially, I thought this was a print problem, for the light settles and sticks in a certain section of the frame as if it were somehow affiliated with the subtitles themselves. But then, in the film’s startling last shot, which reverse mirrors the opening shot, that sparkle of light rises into the sky once again. Am I totally off base here? Does anyone know what I’m talking about? It sounds corny to say it and it might not have been the intention, but if it was a conscious decision, I’ll still accept it.

I’m tired now, but I veryseriouslytruly recommend that you experience STELLET LICHT for yourself on the big screen.

As for SECRET SUNSHINE, my initial reaction was that it was a glossier version of A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE meets BREAKING THE WAVES meets SAFE. At first, I worried that I would be too underwhelmed, but the more that I think about it, the more complex and startling Lee Chang-dong’s film appears to be. Regardless, the thing that most matters here is Jeon Do-yeon’s tragic and exhilarating performance, which won her the Best Actress award at Cannes. The first scene in the church, where she is overwhelmed by God, gave me chills.


I can’t stay awake to write more right now, but I felt that I had to give both of these titles a plug. They are the cream of the crop of this year’s fest so far. What a Tuesday night for those of you out there who still appreciate audacious world cinema. You're in for a real treat if you manage to pull off a double-header.

As for audacious American cinema, Tuesday's press screening lineup has me ultra-excited: PARANOID PARK and I’M NOT THERE. Life could be much, much worse.

This article is related to: Indie Film