It'll soon be time to finalize those New Year's resolutions, and if (like us), one of yours is to shoehorn more art and culture into your life, we have a suggestion to get a head-start on a richer 2012. Since the San Francisco Film Society took over programming for the sleek theater in Japantown's Harajuku-style New People shopping mall, it has featured short runs of new cinema from around the world, restored prints of classic films, cult favorites, and even a live performance or two. Now it screens something contemplative to transition us into the new year: the 2010 Russian film Silent Souls.
The movie focuses on the relationship between lifelong friends Aist and Miron, as they take a somber road trip together to cremate Miron's recently deceased wife Tanja. (The clip above shows what a stunningly somber film it is -- although you have to wait about 10 seconds for the trailer to start.) During their journey, director Aleksei Fedorchenko illuminates the marriage and death rites of the Merja, an ancient Finnish culture in central Russia that was absorbed by first the Slavs 1,000 years ago and later by the Russians.
The Merja language is no longer spoken in the region, though some place names and rituals remain. Fedorchenko's quiet and meditative film provides a glimpse into the last scraps of Merja culture as practiced by Aist and Miron, and offers insight into love and friendship.
Silent Souls screens through Dec. 31 at the San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, 1746 Post (at Webster), S.F. Admission is $11.