January 2, 2009 -- This unusual tale of marital infidelity takes place in the unusual setting of a Mennonite farming community in rural Chihuahua, Mexico. It is a film of quiet beauty, and long stretches of little or no dialog. It is also very ... slow ... paced, but does have some rewards for extremely patient viewers.
Johan, a Mennonite farmer (played by Cornelio Wall) is very quiet at breakfast with his wife and seven children. After everyone has left and he is alone, he cries. He has fallen in love with another woman, Marianne (Maria Pankratz). Johan has told his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews) about his affair. He also tells his father and his best friend. Nobody has any answers for him. After a last liaison with Marianne, she tells him she can't see him anymore. Regardless of the pain inflicted on himself, Marianne and Esther, Johan believes that his love for Marianne is a gift from God. Johan's father feels this love is the work of “the enemy.” As events unfold it seems that Johan is right in his belief.
The film opens with a time lapse shot of the beautiful Chihuahan countryside culminating in the rising of the sun. It ends with a similar shot starting with sunset and ending with darkness. There are many lovely scenic shots in the film, including some dramatic skyscapes. There is not much dialog in the film. The characters are not particularly eloquent. They speak plainly, mostly in some kind of German dialect, born of their Mennonite upbringing. One of the few hints that the film takes place in Mexico is the consumption of tacos for lunch in one scene. The basic conflict in the film is concluded and there is a bit of the supernatural at work as a dead person speaks, or seems to.
There are no professional actors in this film and it does show from time to time. On the other hand, the dialog does seem pretty natural and so is the delivery. The main problem I had with this film is that it just drags along too slowly for my taste. Critics usually have more patience for this sort of thing than the general public has. I'm not terribly impatient, myself, but this film was too slow for me. Sometimes a slow pace works in a film, such as it does in “The Straight Story,” at other times, it seems as though the slow pace is just filler, or padding to make a short story into a feature length film. This film seems like an awful waste of time at the beginning, but does get more interesting in the later parts of the film. I can't quite recommend it because of its slow pace. I've seen snails that move faster than some of these scenes. This film rates a C.
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