Post Tenebras Lux
Studio: Strand Releasing
Directed by Carlos Reygadas
May 03, 2013 Web Exclusive
Rare is the film that strives for rhapsodic innovation and achieves it without fail, but Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas strives for such singularity, and mostly achieves it, in his newest effort Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness, Light). It's the sort of film that defies traditional meaning by design, which is part of what makes it great, and also what makes it slightly infuriating.
The opening scenes pack a real wallop. In the nearly 10 minute opening, a glorious scene that recalls Malick in all his resplendent naturalism, a young girl aged five or younger shuffles through an empty field at dusk. Wild animals surround her as she gleefully searches for her brother and parents. An impending storm threatens danger yet there's no sense of urgency to her movement; only wanderlust. Cows, goats, and dogs circle her like prey, yet they never make good on their threatening posture. Brilliant lightning flashes in a coral sky, forecasting harm. Reygadas creates an ostensibly paradoxical universe in which serenity and tension coexist, as they do in nature.
Moral symbolism is apparent immediately when things turn grim inside the home. An ominous steady shot of the front door at night rests with the viewer until an animated devil/satyr/spirit slowly enters. He approaches the camera unperturbed, then lumbers down the hallway and through the bedrooms, eventually going in to haunt the sleeping parents. Whatever hope and comfort there was amidst the chaos of the natural landscape has been dramatically erased by the definitively creepy interior of man's constructed identity.
It's necessary to describe these scenes at some length because they provide the framework for Reygadas's formal invention, one that ultimately seeks to provide quasi-spiritual instruction. From this point the film functions as a series of slightly over-determined kaleidoscopic vignettes contextualizing the story of the family mostly unseen in the introduction. Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) is the patriarch, and it's through his actions that the story primarily unfolds. A rich, "white" Mexican man living on a sprawling estate, Juan is immediately understood as an anomaly within his natural environment. He lives in and around manual laborers, some of whom work for him as help, many of whom he sees in town living in destitution. He's brooding, brusque, and violent towards animals, but then he can also be endearing and sweet, mostly to his children, Rut and Eleazar, occasionally to his wife, Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo).
The film is full of paradoxes, the foremost of which is Juan's struggle with perceived masculine identities and socio-economic structures. Proceeding omnisciently, the scenes function mostly as glimpses into the life of a model family living in an unstable world. Reygadas characterizes his human vehicles at various points throughout their life, somewhat non-linearly, but the end result is the same; they're infinitesimal creatures in an expansive scheme. Gorgeous visuals interchange: bucolic countryside vistas and nature's glory rest alongside the dredge of man's despair, desire and excess.
Midway through the film there's a feeling that Reygadas doesn't quite trust his audience and so keeps reminding them of the points that have already been made. By the end, though, transcendence happens almost out of nowhere, as the supernatural and the naturalistic elements of his filmmaking converge into something truly special. Comparisons to Malick's Tree of Life are apt, but with Post Tenebras Lux Reygadas continues his own unique quest for a new cinematic language. He's not always successful, but when he is you'll experience moments of true cinematic beauty. It's well worth the ride. (www.strandreleasing.com)
Author rating: 7.5/10
Average reader rating: 8/10