Loss of ethnic identity, role engulfment and seeking solace are elements that define Aleksei Fedorchenko’s movie, Silent Souls (2010). It is a simple yet emotional movie that speaks in an undertone of the intricate patterns of pain and how we come to embrace it. So let me "smoke" your senses in a brutal manner by asking you to take off any unnecessary garment and plunge into Ovsyanki -the original name of the film.
Some movies require a certain mental state of mind, a sharpness of the senses and a wounded heart; for pain is not to be grasped unless it has been largely embraced. How can you speak of loss, of lost love when your soul has never touched the nether world? Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) has lost his wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) and taking care of her body requires the understanding and assistance of his best friend, Aist (Igor Sergeev). Only a friend who has secretly coveted the prospect of loving the welcoming flesh of a red-haired Tanya can share the grief of the mourning husband. Friend and bereaved friend carefully follow the tradition of the Merja community, tributary to past Finnish tribal customs, by washing the body of the wife and then adorning her pubic hair with colourful threads as if preparing her for the wedding night. Except, there is no anxious, loving husband to take them off and hung them on an Alder tree. Marital bliss and death share the same mystery and love towards soul accomplishment. And what better proof of love than to wash the body of your beloved?
A road trip begins to the watery burial ground -the former honeymoon location- on which Miron, Aist and the pair of buntings in the cage make the most unusual companions. It is a land of long-lost traditions, rituals, ghosts, where nature, man and magic share the same coordinates. Miron goes himself through the "smoke" ritual, sharing intimate, sexual details about his dead wife with the silent friend. Tanya's alive image travels in time and her plentiful body and eyes fill the heart of the loving husband and secret admirer. Miron loved her completely, covering her body with lustful gazes and cold vodka, turning her innocence into an assumed sexuality. In a land deprived of sunny, greenery days, love is warm and promising. Buntings trill away, taking Tanya's spirit to her resting place. Buntings also choose Aist to fulfill his destiny and reunite him with his beloved father, the aspiring poet who buried his most-precious object - the typewriter- along with his lost love.
Saddening as the story might be, it almost makes you wish to know that magical town of Neya, "the great Meryan river" (The Volga), or those simple people, unique in their way of loving and grieving. Are traditions and customs bound to die with people or will they continue to outlive them? Are we more our own people or are we merely branches of the same community? The identity of Aist's father, the poet, is torn between the love for his wife that defines his feelings and his poems and his love for the land he sings in his writings. Loss of love translates into loss of inspiration and drive.
After the cremation ritual is fulfilled, the two friends take a short detour, get lost in the welcoming wombs of two generous women, only to close the circle in their majestic river, buntings flying wildly around them, reunited with their loved ones.
Is it our sense of belonging that defines our journey in life, our sense of identity that shapes our being? Is this our legacy? Speaking from elsewhere, Aist's voice shatters all doubts and reclaims the eternal gift of life: Only love has no ending.
Silent Souls is a beautifully shot, highly emotional movie that builds itself into pure poetry, a promising voyage through the vast Russian land where only two gods rule: love and water.