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Post Tenebras Lux [Blu-ray]
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Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) is a wealthy industrialist who has chosen to live with his wife and two children away from the trappings of wealth and the city. Yet isolation in this superficially idyllic rural landscape seems to have brought little peace to his world. Juan's marriage to Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) is suffering under the strain of sexual ennui, the banal rigours of bringing up young children and living in a community where he is clearly an outsider. The morality of family life is further complicated by Juan's post-colonial Mexican ethnicity and position as an employer and elite landowner in a country with an increasingly divergent wealth divide.
Carlos Reygadas' (Battle in Heaven, Silent Light) latest won Best Director in Cannes 2012. It's a gorgeous allusive masterpiece examining marriage, poverty, class, gender, our place in nature and how evil lives with us in the most intimate and ordinary of places. It's a wonder.
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One of its problems is the sheer amount going on. Each segment apparently explores new themes and is inflected with slightly different styles (the influence of several European arthouse directors is clear), creating the impression of a visual collage lacking any obvious focus or intent - enigmatic and visually arresting, but as the story wears on without shaping its ambiguity into something tangible the experience does begin to frustrate. There's a fine line between poetic ambiguity and pretentiousness, and `Post Tenebras Lux' rests precariously upon it. Raising multiple unanswered questions it's hard to get a handle on what director Carlos Reygadas is trying to achieve here, and it appears more like a personal study. What it does capture beautifully is human frailty, the characters at the mercy of the vast imposing natural landscape or their own vices and desires.
The cinematography is exceptional, utilising an unusual 1:33 aspect ratio that, thanks to expert framing and use of light, remains authentically cinematic but keeps a feeling of claustrophobia and closeness that would be absent on a wider screen. An intriguing, almost kaleidoscopic vignette is also present in most of the scenes, distorting the edge of the lens in a way that mimics human sight and our peripheral vision. This amounts to an alluring spectacle that all but physically draws you in to these strangers' lives.
Despite its flaws 'Post Tenebras Lux' makes fantastic use of an air of mystery and short, digestible stories to form an addictive watch full of invention and the unexpected. Ultimately not as spiritually satisfying as it often promises to be, the spectacle and the bizarre experience are more than rewarding. Although the distributors have chosen not to change the title for the British release, 'Post Tenebras Lux' translates as "Light after darkness", a beautiful phrase that perhaps communicates more about Reygadas's intent.
The opening sequence sums up the dreamlike drama of this film, where a young child is surrounded by a pack of dogs and horses from daylight to darkness. Your mind starts to panic as you assume the worst will happen, questions go through your mind about the wellbeing of the child. Its an unnerving scene. Things get stranger still, with a series of seemingly unconnected stories; where English children play rugby in a school; a red Lucifer/goat-like figure making housecalls with a toolbox; and a bathhouse where orgies take place in rooms named after Hegel and Duchamp. Inbetween the many short stories, a couple called Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) live in a big house with their children in the mountains somewhere in Mexico. Their lives and the people that work for them are the only concentrated narrative strands running through this film.
These disparate short stories seem to be used to map out the different aspects of Reygadas’s home country. The rugby match is the one scene that doesn’t fit into this film, I assume its used as a unifying concept for Mexico’s people who shouldn’t be fighting amongst themselves but working as a team for the greater good, regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs.
‘Post Tenebras Lux’ is a sketchy film that flits between the real and unreal. By taking so many different snapshots of life, the message is often lost. These broad brushstrokes are occasionally impressive in situations you least expect, such as in the forest and the headless man. Beautifully filmed, Reygadas’s vision and imagination unlocks images you may not have seen otherwise, or unsuspecting thoughts and feelings. There’s a lot to ponder in ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ but a lot that you may cast aside just as quickly, what’s left may be all you need from this film.
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