Playing with film and light – “Post Tenebras Lux” [2012 Mexico]

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Carlos Reygadas (of Batalla en el cielo and Stellet Licht fame) is no stranger to pushing the envelope and has as many ardent admirers as hardened cynics. But there is no denying the fact that he is one of the more original directors working today, and whether we like or hate his work, we’ll definitely want to talk about it.

His latest film, the biblically referenced “Post Tenebras Lux” will similarly divide viewers right down the middle. To me, it is a free-wheeling exercise in film-making using various techniques, by drawing on the autobiographical, to possibly exorcise his own demons – both material and the metaphysical. The experimental film will dazzle, baffle, and disturb you at the same time.

The opening seven minutes of the film contains one of the most enchanting, compelling, but also anxiety-ridden scenes I can remember of late in cinema – it’s like watching a fairy tale in motion, where the merry frolic of a tiny tot in a meadow turns into something sinister as light fades and a storm brews in the distance. The presence of the farm animals and pet dogs she’s playing with take on a menacing tone over every passing minute. They don’t particularly threaten the toddler, but you desperately want to get her away from there. That was Rut and her disturbing dream (played by Rut Reygadas – the director’s own daughter), one of Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia’s (Nathalia Acevedo) two children – the other child is also played by Reygadas’ own son Eleazar.

I shall not go too much into the storyline as that would inevitably mean giving away whatever there is of the plot. However, it revolves around a sophisticate Juan and his family. They have moved to the country to live in his new-age inspired farmhouse, but we will also witness the difference in quality of life between the haves and have-nots there. Juan may have an ideal family, but has issues that constantly threaten to tear it apart, through his short fuse, frustrations, addictions, and reflected through his own nightmares as a child, of an animated glowing demon stealthily visiting each bedroom at night holding a tool-kit – it ignores the wakened boy and continues on its errands.

There are moments of brilliance during which the director boldly experiments with structure and style by distorting visuals and timeline. Through the course of the film, we’ll see the timeline criss-cross the past, present, and future. It is shot in full-frame for a reason that becomes obvious when you look at the technique used, especially in the outdoor scenes, where the edges are distorted to obtain an unnatural refracted effect, giving it a menacing look. The film’s title – meaning “after darkness, comes light” in Latin, is referenced both figuratively and physically. The tone is reminiscent of Bruno Dumont’s Hors Satan, especially in its infusion of earthy and supernatural elements into the narrative. However, there are some sequences seemingly thrown in at random, like the rugby match between two English school teams that escape me at the time of writing, apart from assuming that it is one of the director’s personal metaphors.

The film will leave you in distress, because almost everything that happens in the film disturbs you as much as it would normally enchant. Some scenes are positively shocking, but which nevertheless doesn’t stop life around from going on as normal either – it is this persistent theme that binds the film. It is thought provoking, and will leave the audience and critics alike scratching their heads after the credits start to roll. For a truly different cinema experience, this is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link | Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Nathalia Acevedo, Valérie Czech, and others
The first scene involves brief nudity from Nathalia Acevedo who plays Natalia, waking up in the nude to pacify a crying Rut. The second is longer – a back-story involving Juan and Natalia’s visit to a sauna-sex club somewhere in Belgium. The scene has plenty of male and female nudity, but is definitely not meant to titillate – I actually found it quite sad and depressing that Natalia and Juan need to seek approval from strangers of her desirability. It appears that most of them in the club are swingers for real – the woman comforting Natalia during the orgy is Valérie Czech. The room they’re in is also imaginatively called the Duchamp room – after the abstract sculptor Marcel Duchamp. There are no urinals in view, but we nevertheless see a bride being stripped bare by her bachelors, even! 🙂

Nathalia Acevedo, Valérie Czech, and others nude in Post Tenebras Lux

Carlos Reygadas’ cryptic drama “Post Tenebras Lux” also features nudity from Nathalia Acevedo and others.

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