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Silent Souls -- Film Review

The Bottom Line

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VENICE -- A husband who still is deeply in love with his dead wife sets out with a friend to bury her. As lyrical and mysterious as the ancient race of Merjans who once lived in Western Russia, Aleksei Fedorchenko's "Silent Souls" takes the viewer on a voyage into the human soul. Disquieting and unforgettable, like a good ghost story, this is a special film for special tastes whose admirers inhabit festivals and smaller niche markets.

Aist (Igor Sergheyev), a paper mill engineer who never has married, is asked by his boss and friend Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) to accompany him on a delicate mission. Miron's beloved wife, Tanya (Yuliya Aug), has just died, and he wants to hold a private funeral in the traditional Merja style. Aist readily consents and, after helping him wash Tanya's huge body, they set off through the country in an SUV.

Two caged birds, which will play an important role in shaping their destiny, accompany the men on their journey. They stop in a town to buy firewood, then, by the side of a melancholy sacred lake, the two men officiate at an archetypal ceremony. But their business is not finished.

Aist, who narrates the yarn, says the Merjans are an expressionless people shaken by sudden passions. He describes some of their erotic folklore, including the habit of intertwining colored threads in the Merja bride's pubic hair or the tradition of reminiscing about intimate details of the dead person's conjugal life, so that the grief of mourning turns into tenderness.

Fedorchenko ("First on the Moon") celebrates the physicality of these people in the soft, fleshy bodies of women, presented with a breathtaking lack of embarrassment.

Mikhail Krichman's deeply atmospheric cinematography and Andrei Karasyov's otherworldly score heighten the film's eerie fairy tale quality.

Bottom line: A lyrical Russian tale, with disquieting erotic undertones.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production: April Mig Pictures Films Co., Media Mir Foundation
Cast: Igor Sergheyev, Yuri Tsurilo, Yuliya Aug, Ivan Tushin
Director: Alexei Fedorchenko
Screenwriter: Denis Osokin
Based on the novel by: Aist Sergeyev
Producers: Igor Mishin, Mary Nazari
Director of photography: Mikhail Krichman
Production designer: Aleksei Potapov
Music: Andrei Karasyov
Costumes: Anna Barthuly
Editor: Sergei Ivanov
Sales Agent: Memento Films
No rating, 75 minutes