Aleksei Fedorchenko's beautiful "Silent Souls" finds ancient pagan rituals thriving in the modern world; the film is a rich, sensual contemplation of the relationship between life and death.
Set in western-central Russia, a region of vast open spaces settled by the Merjas, an ancient Finno-Ugric people, 400 years ago, the film tells the story of Aist (Igor Sergeyev) and Miron, two friends who embark on a journey to bury Miron's wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) according to Merja traditions.
The men transport her body to Lake Nero — water is sacred to the Merjas — and on its beach, they build a funeral pyre where they deposit the remains. Miron shares the most intimate details of his marriage to Tanya with Aist, who might have been in love with Tanya himself. The unburdening of his secrets helps him come to terms with his grief.
"Silent Souls" is a marvel. Fedorchenko's expressive powers and his visual prowess are astonishing, and though the film's conclusion is abrupt and confounding, it feels right.
"Silent Souls." No MPAA rating. In Russian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills, and Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.