Movies

Hellboy 2 & Silent Light

Hellboy 2 & Silent Light featured image

by Marc Glassman.

Hellboy 2:The Golden Army Guillermo del Toro, director and co-script w/Mike Mignola. Starring: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), John Alexander (Johann Krauss)

Silent Light Carlos Reygades, director and script. Starring: Cornelio Wall Fehr (Johan), Miriam Toews (Esther), Maria Pankratz (Marianne)

Hellboy 2:The Golden Army

Sequels aren’t supposed to be as good as this. Guillermo del Toro, Mike Mignola, Ron Perlman and the rest of the returning Hellboy cast and crew have outdone themselves, creating a blockbuster hit that is bound to captivate audiences worldwide. Like The Godfather and Star Wars, Hellboy has now become an enduring pop phenomenon, with, in the old Hollywood parlance, “legs” that will be standing for decades.

The cigar chomping rugged red skinned quipster Hellboy is back, of course, along with his feisty and literally fiery mate Liz, best friend, the aquatic Abe Sapiens, and their nerdy middle management “boss” Tom Manning—but that’s only the bulwark of this film’s immense appeal. What’s changed is del Toro’s confidence in his storytelling. In between the two Hellboys, he made Pan’s Labyrinth, a brilliantly dark fairy tale about the Spanish Civil War—and destroyed childhoods and dreams. With this Hellboy, he spins a complicated yarn with assured pace, style and humour, recounting the renewal of an ancient fight between a mystical underground of fairies and monsters and the “real word” inhabited by humans.

The first Hellboy was fueled by the crazy adolescent prankishness of its titular hero. Now, he and Liz are enmeshed in a relationship and, though Hellboy doesn’t know it until the end of the picture, the audience is in on her secret: she’s pregnant. Knowing that, a set piece where Hellboy confronts an immense plantlike creature while holding a baby in his arms, becomes poignant, not just menacing. It’s clear to the viewers that Hellboy is auditioning for fatherhood, even if he isn’t aware of his impending parenthood at that time.

Adding to the mysterious power of that scene is its silent aftermath, when green vegetation from the destroyed “monster” covers the broken sidewalks and dilapidated buildings of lower Brooklyn. Del Toro allows us to admire the beauty of this creature, whom we are told by the film’s purported villain Prince Nuada, is the last of its kind. That sense of loss—that an ancient magical group of creatures may be dying—motivates Nuada in his quest to conquer—and, yes, annihilate—the human race.

As in all excellent stories, then, there are no good guys and bad guys. Once again, del Toro and Mignola remind us that Hellboy, loveable though he seems, may bring about the end of humanity in the future.

But that’s all in the future! In this rousing film, Hellboy and his pal Abe Sapiens get drunk and proclaim love for the women in their lives—as well as fight battles with Liz and the ghostly Johann Krauss. It’s that mixture of romance, fantasy and adventure that sets Hellboy 2 apart from the run of the mill special f/x summer blockbuster. This film has heart—and that’s the most enduring effect of all.

Silent Light

Readers of the Governor General’s award winning novel A Complicated Kindness know that Manitoba author Miriam Toews was raised as a Mennonite. Still, it’s a delightful surprise to see her starring in an art film made in Mexico, set in one of their Mennonite communities.

Silent Light is a unique film in many ways. For starters, it’s the first film where the majority of the dialogue is in Plattdeutsch, the ancient folkloric German dialect spoken by Mennonites worldwide. And all of the actors, like Toews, are non-professionals. The film’s maker Carlos Reygades is a highly regarded young auteur who believes in long takes and minimal talk—so Silent Light has a pace that is far slower than usual fare. And—without giving away too much of the denouement—this film is genuinely mystical. How many films can claim that?

The story in Silent Light has the power and simplicity of a Biblical tale. Johan, a married farmer with six children, has fallen in love with Marianne. A good man, he has told his wife, Esther, everything—so there’s been no lying or fraudulence in the affair. But there’s grief and suffering for all. Esther and Marianne both love Johan with a quiet, all pervasive, fervor. And Johan’s passion for Marianne is immense; their scenes together are emotional, intense and erotic.

Reygades’ style, so stripped down and minimal that it feels like a cross between a cinema verité documentary and a Beckett play, elevates this story of a ménage-a-trois into a tragedy. And that’s before the ending, in which divine intervention—or a miracle—takes place that transforms Silent Light into something else again.

Critics have already compared this film to Carl Dreyer’s brilliant Ordet and Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Cries and Whispers. It has the intensity and strangely conflicted religiosity of those films and also of Rossellini’s astonishing The Miracle. Like those extraordinary pieces of cinema, Silent Light will not be a film for everybody. In fact, some may hate it. But those who do embrace it will carry moments of this film with them for years to come. And surely many will never forget Toews’ powerful performance as Esther—surely a great Canadian addition to the annals of world cinema.

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