Monday, 6 January 2014

Silent Souls (2010)

After a longer than desirable holiday break in posting some new insights into the weird and wonderful viewing that dominates my life, as predicted in the previous entry below, none of the proposed Christmas-scheduled gems really turned me on. Of the proffered titles, I only found "Wreck-it Ralph" of vague entertainment value, largely for its psychedelic images and rather strange story-line, and "The Wonderful Burt Wonderstone" a definite oddity without being overly diverting. I haven't gotten around to "Drive" yet, which is currently languishing on the hard-drive of my Sky Box. However to temper my earlier comments, I must congratulate the usually derided as low-market Channel Five for their selection of classic golden oldies over the period. I didn't watch any of them mind you, since I have my own copies of virtually all, but at least they showed some thought and intelligence in their selection. (And their programme on the 'best' Christmas movies wasn't as bad as I feared either).

So what is the above-titled film? Good question! It has been sitting on a VHS tape (remember those?) for some four months now, having been taped on an upstairs recorder on a night when I had too many overlaps on the Sky Box and it resolutely refused to play on a downstairs machine. (OK, I admit we still have two VHS machines in addition to our various DVD players and recorders -- which we continue to find useful). Anyhow when I was generally living downstairs with my pesky ankle, I put the tape aside to watch upstairs in due course and only remembered it a few days ago. And what a strange and fascinating movie it turned out to be.

It's a Russian film (original title "Ovsyanki) which made the festival circuit a few years back but which probably never had much of a release anywhere. I know nothing about its director Aleksey Fedorchenko, but he and a very talented cinematographer have fashioned a gripping insight into a previously unknown culture. The two leading characters are factory-owner Miron and his employee and good friend, the bachelor Aist; they are descendants of an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe that lost its own language and national identity many centuries ago, but which retains -- almost as a folk memory -- the ancient myths, traditions, and rituals of their Meryan heritage.

Miron's much-loved and much-younger wife Tanya has died, but he refuses to commit her body to the morgue. He enlists Aist to accompany him on a road trip to a distant sacred lake where he spent his honeymoon, for them to cremate the body (on a pyre of axe-handles!) and to then scatter the ashes in the lake. The Meryan tradition is that drowning is the best possible death enabling one to merge with the water, but scattering the ashes therein is the next-best thing. Aist, whose late father was a na├»ve native folk-poet considered somewhat gaga by the local population, also wants to find his narrative voice but has so far been unsuccessful. He also nourished some serious lust for the late Tanya, although a rather promiscuous approach to sexual matters is another feature of their inherited culture. Knowing that he will be away from his home for several days, he takes with him a pair of caged buntings (some drab birdies) which he has just bought. They and the blanket-wrapped body of Tanya on the back seat are the other passengers on their journey. Dialogue is sparing as they pass through the endless barren landscape, apart from 'smoking'; "do you mind if I smoke", asks Miron, which in this context means revealing all of the sexual perversities that he and Tanya have enjoyed.

After the pair have completed the funeral finalities, they seek out the company of two young whores to help them feel more alive, but Miron can really only look forward to the day when he will be reunited with his wife in the holy waters. Without getting into any serious spoilers, I will only tell you that the buntings become the conduit by which the pair are enabled to find their respective ideal destinies. The ending comes as both a shock and a satisfying poetic conclusion to the story of two unusual lives.

Now, that to me was far better viewing than most of the disposable movies on offer over recent weeks....  The movie is available on DVD and is probably worth seeking out.
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