Films that deal with the realities of death are few and far between. Those that also explore grief and funeral rituals are very rare indeed. The 2011 release, Silent Souls does all of this in an elegant, gentle and thought provoking manner. This compelling story about the Merja of Russia, allows us to understand some of their traditions and funerary rituals. In doing so, we are also allowed a new understanding of the human condition and of our own needs in life, grief and death.
Directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko, and based on a novel "The Buntings" by Aist Sergeyev, Silent Souls chronicles the thousand mile road trip of two friends.
When Miron’s beloved wife Tanya passes away, he asks his best friend Aist to help him say goodbye to her according to the rituals of the Merja culture, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe from Lake Nero in West Central Russia. Although the Merja people assimilated into Russians in the17th century, their myths and traditions live on in their descendants’ modern life.
The two men set out on a road trip thousands of miles across the boundless land along with two small birds in a cage. Along the way, the funerary customs and traditional beliefs of the Merjans, are slowly revealed. In their conversations and memories, their defining relationships; Miron's with his wife Tanya, and Aist's with his deceased mother and poet father, bring life and meaning to the world view that is their ethnic heritage.
This film is remarkable in its gentle unhurried pace, and breathtaking cinematography, and in the volumes of information conveyed by the subtle actions and limited speech of its characters. Most compelling though, is the degree to which this film brings into focus the vital importance of our participation in rituals and traditions. Ultimately, those actions provide us with essential sustenance; giving us of our sense of self and our place in the world.
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