Review by: Topo Sanchez
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming or reminiscing about the past? Do you observe that your thoughts are usually abrupt, non-linear and sometimes purely random? Well, Post Tenebras Lux is kinda like watching all that swirling snippets of random memories playing inside the head – in this case, Carlos Reygadas’ head.
Its no secret that Post Tenebras Lux is supposed to be autobiographical. So I am guessing that’s probably why the audience will get a sense that Reygadas is intentionally making this film difficult to watch and understand – it’s probably his way of firing a warning shot to say “Hey, you are trespassing into my territory, if you don’t like it you can get the hell out!”. And to top it off, the entire film is shot with a custom-made lens that causes double vision at the edges, like a cheesy camera filter from the psychedelic 70s. Yes, one might argue that the director probably used this bizarre technique to mimic the ‘fogginess’ of recalling old memories, but personally, I think he chose to use it just to f*** with us.
Right from the opening scene we see a cute little girl, Rut (who is Reygadas’ daughter in real life), being circled by a pack of dogs and horses while she is wandering around in a muddy field. It starts off with a beautiful evening light and slowly creeps into darkness of night. Its beautifully shot, but the juxtaposition of innocence with aggression creates a kind of tension that is deeply unsettling. And with that, he sets the tone for what is to come.
The story revolves around a relatively well-to-do family of four, who just moved to the Mexcian countryside – Juan and Natalia, and their children Rut and Eleazar. Everything seems to be fine and dandy for everyone on the surface, but through the conversations and series of events, we can sense tension in almost every frame. From the scene where Juan violently beats up his most beloved dog to death, to a whispered conversation in the kitchen about anal sex, to the mind boggling sex club that looks like a non-descript sauna, Reygadas has truly mastered the art of sneaking in shock amidst the mundane.
The sauna scene is probably one of the most memorable in the film. The colours are beautiful, the framing is perfect and the excellent sound production draws you in to the action. You feel like you are actually in the sauna, sweating from the heat, vision all steamy and blurred, lustfully waiting for your turn amongst the sea of half naked bodies. Since the film is not presented in a chronological order, we can only guess when the couple visited this sauna / sex club, and why. The only clue we get to the disjointed timeline is from observing Juan’s varying beard lengths throughout the film!
One other scene that stands out is when a graphic, glowing red Lucifer carrying a toolbox in one hand, makes a house call….twice! Its an absolutely absurd and WTF moment on screen, yet its so captivating and intriguing that you can’t help but sit and wonder what the hell could it possibly mean. But by now, I have stopped asking for a rational explanation for what I am watching. There are too many other random scenes stuck together for no reason, like a rugby match in England taking place right after a murder in Mexico, or a rural self-help group for mexican sex addicts, or a gory self decapitation (by hand, no less!). Well at least there seem to be some kind of loose explanation for the rugby scene – Reygadas spent some time in England when he was younger, so perhaps he played rugby in school. But for the other stuff, who knows?
Reygadas is a Destroyer. All the happy, touching moments he create are just like plastic dioramas carefully set up for his twisted mind to annihilate and beat up to a pulp. Like when Natalia goes to the piano to sing a Neil Young song to comfort Juan, it has to be an appallingly bad rendition that is simply too painful to listen to. He seems to enjoy that very much, tainting something beautiful with a violent, ugly slash. All these elements combined, Post Tenebras Lux is not exactly the easiest of films to watch. But it is also a film that you will not easily forget. It stays in your head for weeks ( I know it did for me!) and you find yourself recalling scenes from the film and trying to digest the meaning of it all. And the irony is that the way you recall the film is exactly like how the film was shot, in bits and bobs, in flashes and random waves.
I think its quite possible that Carlos Reygadas has created the ultimate anti-film with Post Tenebras Lux. It is a film created from sheer instinct and artistic purity (if there’s such a word at all). It is a film that you must learn to feel, and not just watch with your eyes.
See what happens when you watch a film that makes no sense?
You start to not make sense yourself!
Watch it anyway!