Silent Light

Silent Light

French theatrical poster
Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Produced by Carlos Reygadas
Jaime Romandia
Written by Carlos Reygadas

Elizabeth Fehr
Jacobo Klassen
Maria Pankratz
Miriam Toews
Cornelio Wall

Peter Wall
Cinematography Alexis Zabe
Edited by Natalia López
Distributed by Palisades Tartan
Release dates
  • May 22, 2007 (2007-05-22) (Cannes Film Festival)
  • August 12, 2007 (2007-20-12) (Mexico)
Running time
127 minutes
Country Mexico
Language Low German

Silent Light (Plautdietsch: Stellet Licht; Spanish: Luz silenciosa) is a 2007 film written and directed by Carlos Reygadas. Filmed in a Mennonite colony close to Cuauhtémoc, Chihuahua State, Northern Mexico, Silent Light tells the story of a Mennonite married man who falls in love with another woman, threatening his place in the conservative community. The dialogue is in Plautdietsch, the Low German dialect of the Mennonites. The film was selected as the Mexican entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 80th Academy Awards, but it did not make the shortlist.[1] The film was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 24th Independent Spirit Awards.[2] It gained nine nominations, including all major categories, in the Ariel Awards, the Mexican national awards.

Martin Scorsese described the work as "A surprising picture and a very moving one as well."[3] It was awarded the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[4]


Silent Light begins with a long tracking shot of the sun rising over a beautiful plain. The protagonist Johan, his wife Esther, and their children sit silently saying grace, after which each member of Johan's family departs from their home except for him. Once he is alone, he stops the clock on the wall and breaks down crying. Johan goes to work and discusses with a colleague that he is having an affair with a single woman by the name of Marianne; he makes it clear that his wife knows about the affair. Johan leaves work to meet Marianne in a field, and they begin to kiss. In the next scene, Johan's children are bathing and playing along a riverbank while he and his wife watch. They call one of their children over to bathe her, and as they are doing so, Esther begins to cry.

Johan tells his father about the affair, but when they step outside to discuss it, the scene shows winter. No explanation is provided for the change of season. Johan's affair with Marianne continues; they have sex in a local hotel while Johan's children wait in a van with a stranger - someone whom Marianne seems to know and trust. As Johan is driving in his car with Esther, she confronts him about the affair. She says she is going to vomit and forces him to stop the car. She runs off taking a blue umbrella, telling him not to follow. She breaks down crying along the side of a field, has what the doctor later describes as "coronary trauma," and dies.

At her wake, friends and family are there to provide comfort. Johan visits the body, says his goodbyes, and goes outside for air. Marianne suddenly shows up at the wake and asks if she can spend a moment with Esther's body, which Johan allows. Marianne enters the room, slowly kisses Esther's body on the lips, and drops a tear on her cheek. Esther appears to return to life as Johan's father sets the clock on a nearby wall. Johan breaks down again, before one of his daughters says that "Mum wants to see him." Marianne leaves silently as Johan prepares to enter the room in which Esther waits. The final few minutes of Silent Light are another tracking shot, with the sun setting.


Carlos Reygadas' films are known for their long sequences, slow rhythm, and use of nonprofessional actors. All the performers in Silent Light are Mennonites from communities in Mexico, Germany and Canada. Among the performers is Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who grew up in the Mennonite community of Steinbach, Manitoba and has written novels related to this culture. The film was an international co-production by companies from Mexico, France and the Netherlands.



In the United States, the Time magazine reviewer wrote, "All the scenes shine with a visual and emotional brilliance". Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film "an apparently simple story about forgiving" in which "the images are of extraordinary beauty", and said that "The characters seem to be illuminated from the inside." The magazine Sight & Sound rated it number 6 on their list of the top films of 2007. Roger Ebert ranked the film one of the top ten independent films of 2009[5] as well as one of the best films of the 2000s.[6] The reviewer of Le Monde wrote that "Reygadas's genius makes every moment sacred." Review aggregator 'Rotten Tomatoes' gives the film a score of 89%, with a "Certified Fresh" rating.[7]

Film Comment remarked on Silent Light's similarities to the film Ordet (1955) by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer. Among other elements, it features pastoral farm scenes, ticking clocks, slow pacing, silence, similarly named central characters (Johan and Johannes in Ordet), a focus on a large farm family, a protagonist questioning the strict piety of his minister father, the death of the protagonist's wife in seeming relation to her husband's transgression and, most saliently, the wife's apparent resurrection from the dead as brought about by a kiss.[8] It is not a strict remake of Ordet, however, as there are numerous and substantive differences in plot. Also, Reygadas' film does not include the character of a prophetic son.

The film was nominated in nine categories, including all major ones, for the Ariel Awards in Mexico.[9]

Top ten lists

The film appeared on several critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008.[10]


Representation in other media

Some of the "making of" Silent Light appears in fictionalized form in the 2012 novel, Irma Voth, written by award-winning Canadian author, Miriam Toews. The novel is about a Mennonite teenager named Irma, whose isolated existence is transformed when she is hired by a bohemian film crew that comes to her settlement to make a film about Mennonites. Toews was inspired by her own experience on the set of Silent Light, in which she plays the role of Esther, Johan's wife.[16] The "film-within-the-novel" is recognizably Silent Light. According to critic Catherine E. Wall, Toews' novel provides additional insight into the dynamics of conflict and cooperation between the Spanish-Mexican film crew and the ultra-conservative Mennonites of the Cuauhtémoc Settlement where filming took place.[17]


  2. "SILENT LIGHT previously at Film Forum in New York City". Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  3. "Jury Prize: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and to Silent Light by Carlos Reygadas". Retrieved 7 October 2012. External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. "The best films of 2009". Roger Ebert. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
  5. "The best films of the decade". Roger Ebert. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
  7. Review: Silent Light, Film Comment
  8. O'Boyle, Michael (2008-02-20). "'Light' shines at Mexico's Ariel Noms". Variety. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  9. "Metacritic: 2008 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on January 2, 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2009.
  10. A. O. Scott (2008-12-18). "In the Face of Loss, Celebrating Ties That Bind". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-11.
  11. Scott Foundas (2008-12-31). "THE 10 (OR 17) BEST FILMS OF 2008". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2015-07-11.
  12. Manohla Dargis (2008-12-18). "In the Big Picture, Big-Screen Hopes". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-11.
  13. David Ansen (2008-12-19). "David Ansen's Top 10 Movies of the Year". Newsweek. Retrieved 2015-07-11.
  14. J. Hoberman (2008-12-31). "J. HOBERMAN'S TOP 10 OF 2008". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2015-07-11.
  15. Houpt, Simon (May 12, 2007). "Miriam Toews: from author to actress". The Globe and Mail.
  16. Wall, Catherine E. (November 2012). "Miriam Toews. Irma Voth". World Literature Today. 86 (3). doi:10.7588/worllitetoda.86.3.0072.

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