Post Tenebras Lux
A probing, ambitious and frequently exasperating work from Mexican visionary Carlos Reygadas
The marvellous Mexican director Carlos Reygadas (Japon, Battle in Heaven, Silent Light) is a filmmaker given to making films that jar. Whether it is a suicidal solitary having sex with a woman in her mid-seventies or the aloof sex club where the central couple in Post Tenebras Lux have sex with strangers, Reygadas pushes representational expectations: these are strong images. Add to this, an element of implausibility (at one moment here a man pulls off his own head in a scene strangely reminiscent of Willem Dafoe’s self-execution in Wild at Heart), as well as an editing approach that doesn’t so much tie the story together as leave it disparately and desperately disconnected, and the film is nothing if not an exasperating experience.
There isn’t really a story in Post Tenebras Lux; more an examination of social class abstracted (it is a companion piece to Reygadas’s Mexico-set Battle in Heaven), as it dwells on a wealthy couple (Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Nathalia Acevedo) with two kids living in the countryside surrounded by people of a much lower social class. The film also includes vignettes of the couple amongst their own in the city, and a robbery that is as half-baked in its conception as it is executed by Reygadas’s camera.
All this sounds like criticism, but Reygadas is, from a certain point of view, one of modern cinema’s masters: a director who wants to work with productive frustration as he creates images using a distorting, bevelled lens to size up a world that is itself distorted. At one moment a wealthy character quotes from Tolstoy, noting that all the material pleasures someone had accumulated could be equalled by giving them up. It’s probably the key line in the film, and there is something in Reygadas’s extractive asesthetic reflecting it, an approach to film form that eschews key elements (like narrative progression and back story) for something more suggestive and spare. The director might know cinema history (echoes of Lynch, Weerasethakul, Sokurov and Seidl can be seen here), but his eschewal of story, character development and event indicate he is more interested in removal than addition. The question is how one responds to what is left.
Limited release from Fri 22 Mar.