Aist (Sergeyev) buys a pair of bunting birds. Tanya (Aug), the wife of Aist's boss and best friend, Miron (Tsurilo), passes away suddenly. These seemingly unrelated incidents---two of many to come---occur at the start of Aleksei Fedorchenko's enigmatic and entrancing feature, which follows these two men as they transport Tanya's body from a small Russian town to the shores of Lake Nero. Once there, they will dispatch her corpse according the sacred rites of the Merja people, an ancient tribe who were assimilated into Russian culture during the 17th century and whose customs are now mostly forgotten.
The images and incidents are often strange but never seem incongruous: Miron regales Aist with conjugal tales from his life (a beautiful flashback scene sees the husband tenderly washing his wife in a vodka bath), while Aist, the story's narrator, recalls curious episodes from his own past (one involves his father dumping a typewriter into an icy lake). Each scene is filmed in beguiling, dreamy fashion---there are several evocative uses of rear projection, and the widescreen photography is astonishing throughout---that gives it the feel of a stanza in an economical yet epic poem about lost rituals, the burden of history and the bonds of love. Even at a mere 75 minutes, Silent Souls is thrillingly dense and allusive, and the elegiac finale maintains the overall air of mystery while beautifully bringing all the disparate threads together.
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