Aleksei Fedorchenko’s “Silent Souls” – 2010 New York Film Festival Review

At first glance, the trajectory for “Silent Souls” seems to be set when Miron, a paper mill director, rather formally asks his friend Aist, a photographer at the mill, to accompany him on an unusual journey – to bid farewell to Miron’s recently deceased wife Tanya in the town of the couple’s honeymoon.  However, instead of a Hollywood-style, dramatic dialogue-driven showdown between the two men, the 75-minute Russian feature serves as a tribute to those loved and lost.  In “Silent Souls,” this painstaking effort has a dual purpose: to facilitate the mourning of a human being by summoning the will to keep her memory alive, and to continue the mourning of a culture long gone by summoning the will to keep its rituals prevalent in each passing generation.

The screenplay, which is based on a novel by Aist Sergeyev called The Buntings, relies heavily on the voiceover of Aist (played by Igor Sergeyev) as well as extended shots of the men’s preparation of Tanya’s corpse for the afterlife.  Aist and Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) travel along deserted roads connecting “orphaned villages” from the days of the Merjans, a Finno-Ugric tribe that assimilated into Russia in the 1700s and from which both men have descended from.  Accompanying the men are two of Aist’s birds cited in the title of Sergeyev’s novel, who play a small but pivotal role in the film.

At times, the narrative appears to plod despite the film’s short length; scenes involving an encounter with two women as well as a couple flashbacks to Aist’s childhood seem to be more superfluous than necessary.  However, given the main characters’ vain attempts to preserve memories rather than have them evaporate altogether, these scenes successfully form a disjointed yet effective thread.  One powerful aid is the cinematography, which won the film the award for Best Cinematography at this year’s Venice Film Festival.  The approach, according to director Aleksei Fedorchenko, was deliberate: he wanted the overall color of the picture to be blue, which “symbolized sadness;” he sought rural ghost towns where the Merjans lived to serve as haunting backdrops; and he chose the brief time period last year during the transition of fall to winter to shoot in order to mirror the process of death.  These details alone make “Silent Souls” a worthwhile screening, and provide the viewer much to consider long afterward, particularly in grasping what in life is permanent and what is fleeting.

“Silent Souls” screens at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center on Sept. 28 at 9:15 p.m.  For tickets, go to