Joshua Reviews Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux [PIFF 2013 Review]

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The world of foreign and arthouse cinema has its fair share of poets. Directors like Apichatpong Weerasethakul have taken the mantle as some of film’s most challenging and experimental auteurs, but all truly pale in comparison to the obtuse blitzkrieg that is director Carlos Reygadas impenetrable and utterly breathtaking meditation on the human condition Post Tenebras Lux.

More a mood poem than a true bit of narrative, the film ostensibly follows the story of family who after moving to a rural area in Mexico, is troubled by everything from themselves to an odd red demon who haunts the hallways of the family’s home. Very much akin to a film like Weerasethakul’s masterpiece Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Post Tenebras Lux is at times both brazenly cinematic and completely and utterly confounding and occasionally frustratingly, dare I say, pretentious.

As with most of his work, Reygadas’ direction is both the film’s greatest asset, with his script being his greatest downfall. Visually, this film is as gorgeous a film as the film world has seen in years. A clear cinematic vision is in play here from Reygadas, which is fitting, in that many of these sequences seem to flow in and out of each other in a stream of conscience style way, accosting the viewer as if he or she were in a peyote filled tent in a valley in the Mexican countryside. With beautiful cinematography and outdoor sequences shot in a manner in which the outer edges of the frame begin to blur, ultimately culminating in a double, mirror-like, image peering in from outside of this film’s universe like the red demon that shows up briefly for a pair of sequences during the film. With cues taken from the lyricism found in Malick films to sequences of brutal honest playing like a more blunt Roberto Rossellini film, Post Tenebras Lux makes almost no attempt at crafting an emotionally enthralling or engaging narrative, instead offering up a piece of art that is both pure cinema and aggressively distant and isolating.

And in that isolation, comes the films near downfall.

Reygadas also pens the film’s screenplay, of which there seems to be only a collection of a handful of pages, and it is in the film’s narrative (or lack thereof) that both the stunning themes pop up, but also no emotional core is found. Inherently a film about everything ranging from interpersonal relationships to human isolation, the picture is allegedly somewhat auto-biographical, but nothing personal can be found here. A politely obtuse and aggressively detached drama, Post Tenebras Lux is a stunning piece of cinematic art that is truly thought-provoking, but also completely bewildering. Jumping from sequences like those involving the aforementioned demon, to sequences in a sex room and sequences involving a rugby match, the film seems like a series of experiences rather than a cohesive narrative of any kind.

Performances here are fine as well, but all seemingly one note. Adolfo Jimenez Castro, Nathalia Acevedo and Willebaldo Torres star, with the director’s daughter Eleazar Reygadas in a role as well, but none here are given a ton to do. There are, again, sequences where each performer is given time to shine, but Reygadas appears to be completely uninterested in giving the viewer anything other than a visual and aesthetic experience. The daughter opens the film in what may be the picture’s strongest sequence, a dusk-set sequence involving a flock of animals, that is both utterly breathtaking and oddly stirring, giving the viewer the closest thing they’ll get to anything resembling an emotional payoff.

At both aesthetically bewildering and bewilderingly opaque, Post Tenebras Lux is unlike anything you’ll see all year. A fever dream, or better a nightmare out of the collective mind of a family on the brink, this film is one of the most visceral cinematic experiences of recent memory, without having anything resembling an emotional backbone. Simply one of the oddest motion pictures of this still very young 2013, Post Tenebras Lux may also be its first must see art film. A conflicting picture, this is one that won’t be forgotten, or one that won’t be easy to stop talking about.

PIFF SCREENINGS:

Wed, Feb 20, 2013
at 6 PM (Cinema 21)

Fri, Feb 22, 2013
at 6 PM (Cinema 21)

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