Mexican director Carlos Reygadas’ latest film, Silent Light, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, will be released in London this Friday 7th of December.
The language is Low German. The film takes place entirely in a Mennonite community in Mexico and all of the actors (or, more accurately, non-actors) are Mennonites.
Silent Light concerns the spiritual crisis of a Mennonite farmer who is having an affair. Reygadas, who has been compared to European masters like Carl Dreyer and Andrei Tarkovsky, chose the setting because of its lack of modern-day distractions; he wanted the film to deal with grand themes like love, death, community, family and forgiveness, which apply to people in all times and places, and the word ‘Mennonite’ is never mentioned. Nevertheless, it has been widely publicised that Silent Light was filmed in a Mennonite community, and Mennonites in London are concerned that the film not exacerbate misperceptions about Mennonites.
“Silent Light is a wonderful film,” says Vic Thiessen, director of the London Mennonite Centre (LMC), “and I hope a lot of people see it, but few people in the UK have ever heard of Mennonites and those who have, think of Mennonites as farmers living in isolated religious communities, like the one depicted in the film.” Thiessen notes that “while there are still many such communities in the Americas, the vast majority of the world’s Mennonites (and there are over a million) live just like their fellow Christians.”
Mennonites, part of a wider family of Christians known as Anabaptists, trace their origins to the Reformation in the 1520’s. Because they believed that people should be baptised as adults upon confession of faith, and that churches should be made up of voluntary believers, the Anabaptists were severely persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants, eventually forcing them into isolated communities which migrated regularly in pursuit of religious freedoms (such as the freedom not to participate in the military, for they were pacifists). Mennonites became known as “the quiet in the land”, but, says Thiessen, “that began to change in the first half of the twentieth century. Our mandate here in London is the opposite of isolation. We are here to offer the insights of Anabaptist emphases like discipleship (following Jesus), peace and justice, community, and service to the wider Christian church in the UK.”
The biggest programmes of the LMC are Bridge Builders, which offers conflict transformation training to Christians (especially church leaders) in the UK, and the Metanoia Book Service. The LMC is also home to the Root and Branch Radical Christian Vision Network, a network of like-minded Christian organisations, including the thinktank Ekklesia.
Despite his concerns about misperceptions, Thiessen is eager to promote Silent Light. “Carlos told me his film has been very controversial in the Mexican Mennonite community,” he said. “This is sad, because I think the film is incredibly profound, sensitive and moving and I hope that all the world’s Mennonites (indeed, everyone) will have a chance to see it and engage with it.”