Silent Souls Review
Really, deliberately dry, the Russian film Silent Souls is a nonetheless sometimes remarkable work. It presents an idea so potentially sad as to feel perverse and manages to at least flirt with being a profound meditation on much of what we hold dear. The initial pull here involves two middle-aged men attempting to fulfill a local ritual wherein the corpse of one's wife is taken and burned. It thus becomes a road movie by necessity but one where the moody and poetic must coexist with all of the quietly devastating emotion which emerges as the two men slowly reveal intimate details of their lives in relation to the woman they're transporting.
Director Aleksei Fedorchenko seems unafraid of presenting a series of rather obtuse, disorienting scenes which catch the viewer who's prepared for something instead more concrete off-guard and intrigued. The film's relative slowness (even at only 75 minutes of running time) makes those moments of maximum impact all the more affecting. The single most galvanizing turn in the picture (which I won't spoil here) initially comes across as so subtle as to make the viewer question exactly what just happened. The result, though, shades everything a little differently. It changes the meaning, at least on some level, of all that has occurred previously. To be any less vague might ruin the coloring of what is first seen and how it's seen.
Elsewhere, part of the appeal in Silent Souls is its commitment to showing a largely unknown custom that exists among the Merya. This tribal people situated in West-Central Russia are shown having their customs such as the one being performed here slowly falling by the wayside. The film then kind of serves as a means of preserving the ancient ritual as well as putting it on display for outsiders. The poetic beauty certain aspects achieve here is accepted in just as matter of fact a manner as the more tense moments. Any overall coldness felt can be quickly dismissed as largely superficial and inconsistent with what's actually happening.
The film on the whole represents an often quiet peace which perhaps transcends its narrative. The margins are not necessarily brimming with subtext and meaning but Silent Souls does manage to evoke lofty emotions and feelings despite an awareness of its limitations. The imagery and cinematography by Mikhail Krichman certainly carries greater weight at times than the specific storyline being explored but that overall willingness to be mysterious and bold is served well by the gravity underscoring the conversations between the two men. What comes through more than anything else is a raw vulnerability shared both by the men and with the audience. Nothing really feels comforting here amid the haunting, incessant nature of their journey.
Zeitgeist Films releases Silent Souls onto DVD in the U.S. (Artificial Eye put out its own version in the UK last year.) The single-layered disc is region-free.
Video quality is strong, with the 2.35:1 aspect ratio enhanced in anamorphic widescreen. The transfer, sourced from an HD master, shows the cold beauty of the setting and provides sharp detail for standard definition. There's no damage on view. The only hiccup is that it's a non-progressive presentation.
The Russian audio can be heard in either a 5.1 or two-channel stereo track. Those with appropriate set-ups can appreciate the former's atmospheric quality in drawing the listener in to the chilly Russian air but both options are fine. Optional English subtitles are provided. They're white in color.
The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer. No booklet inside the case from Zeitgeist this time.