Thursday, July 21, 2011

Silent Souls

After Miron's wife Tanya dies, Miron asks his best friend Aist to help him bury her according to the rituals of the Merja culture, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe from Lake Nero, a picturesque region in West-Central Russia.

Disclaimer: I am not a historian.

From a historical perspective, the Merja were a Finnic people who inhabited central Russia before the Slavic conquests (circa 1000 AD). Although it's not known exactly what became of them, some were assimilated into the Russian empire during the 17th century. "Near present day Jaroslavl areas of Rostov and Pereslavl, there are large lakes, Nero and Plescheevo, which are mentioned in ancient Russian chronicles as the Merja's lands." It is one of these lakes that is the final resting place of Tanya's body, where Miron and Aist place her atop a funeral pyre and stand in silence as smoke billows across the water.

The film has a slow but deliberate pace, and there is very little dialog. The camera follows the two men as if a third person. In one of several long, uninterrupted shots, we ride along in the car's back seat as the two scavenge supplies for the funeral. However, in what feels like an after-funeral epilogue, we eventually find ourselves in the Russian equivalent of Costco, standing and staring at aisles of electronics. I guess the Merja are not so different from Americans in that they like to go walk around Costco when they're bored and buy things they don't really need? (I'm kidding. Well, not about the Americans.)

Director Aleksei Fedorchenko has made a couple of previous films, one a fake documentary revealing that it was actually a Soviet who first walked on the moon.

- Ron Shaker

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival, 2011
Mood: Slow, symbolic, nostalgic
Art/Entertainment: 90%/10%
Language: Russian w/English subtitles
Genre: Drama
Rating: 3/5

SIFF
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