MFF 2013 DAY TEN: Post Tenebras Lux

10/5/2013

Post Tenebras Lux

Post Tenebras Lux (light after darkness, taken from Job) is director Reygadas’s semi-autobiographical… I hate to use this word… meditation on his life in rural Mexico, and a few other spare locations. It is shot in a dated, myopic 1.33 aspect ratio that made my heart yearn for that maligned Kubrickian perfection of symmetry. And for the sake of nostalgia (which makes for some intriguing distortions but cerebrally does nothing for me) all outdoor scenes have a circular rift in the lens, like the editor kept setting down a frosty mug of beer on the image. The film won the Best Director prize at 2012’s Cannes Film Festival, and tonally reminded me very much of 2010’s Palme d’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Recalls His Past Lives (happily screened at 2010’s MFF), both films being intensely ruminative, visceral, and overtly esoteric.

The 25 scenes the viewer experiences orbit around a nuclear, upper middle class family headed by Juan and Natalia and their lovely young children Eleazer and Rut (surname: Reygadas). The film’s opening scene seems to be two year old Rut’s dream (of course every scene is a dream), where she happily trots among some animals in a pastel-laden picturesque valley, Reygadas’s camera low to the ground (impossible for the cineaste’s mind to not conjure Malick) and follows the girl’s giggly enjoyment of cows, horses and dogs as distant thunder rumbles (often heard in the distance throughout the film), the sky darkens (the film indulges many scenes with enormous levels of beautiful natural darkness), the storm approaches (and Master and Margarita is later, perhaps, homaged), the sky darkens to total blackness and is sporadically illumed by bursts of lightning among mountainous cumulo-clouds. Why is it that this scene transfixes itself upon you?

There is a very warm scene soon after where the parents wake to their children jumping into bed and have a picture-perfect family Kodak moment – but is immediately followed by a scene where Juan inexplicably brutalizes the family dog, sending those warm feelings into a brick wall like a crash test dummy. There is an elementally solid, glowing, briefcase-toting red devil who silently steals into an apartment in the middle of the night and is witnessed by a lucid little boy, and it is difficult to tell if this abode is in any way related to Juan’s family. Many scenes follow whose meaning is elusive at best (good luck contextualizing the rugby scenes), and any religious symbolism or class commentary left this viewer cold. But the film is never anything but visually engaging, and it is perfectly evident how Reygadas could’ve earned Best Director. However, any emotional impact will depend entirely on the viewer, that viewer’s mood on that current day, etc – and part of me cannot help but feel that all films should strive for that which engenders this singular individual experience. I am reminded of a quote (the origin of which is anybody’s best guess): “Film is a director’s medium, television is a writer’s medium, theater is an actor’s medium.”

Among critics and auteurs Post Tenebras Lux has been polarizing. Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young said, “the global reputation and arthouse fan-base [Reygadas] has steadily built … will be eroded rather [than] boosted by this offensively self-indulgent cubist folly.” Negative reactions to this film that provoke offense leave me a bit baffled, but I certainly can understand how viewers who do not go along for ride, are reduced to passive passengers in a world that doesn’t interest them, can become extremely resentful (I’ve been there, if you can believe that). Then there is Manohla Dargis’s perfect scoring NYTimes review, where she closes, “Everything in the film may be in the past or may just be in the eternal, magnificent, maddening present that is Mr. Reygadas’s consciousness.” If a film strives to be as rigorously subjective as this one, these reactions are inevitable.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far
Blow Out
Oh Boy
Something in the Air
A Hijacking
Sightseers
Paradise: Hope
Citizen Koch
After Tiller
Stories We Tell
Short Term 12
In the House
Post Tenebras Lux

Ranked
Post Tenebras Lux
Stories We Tell
Something in the Air
Blow Out
In the House
A Hijacking
Sightseers
Paradise: Hope
After Tiller
Oh Boy
Citizen Koch
Short Term 12

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