Top critical review
12 people found this helpful
An addictive, hallucinogenic journey through rural Mexico
on 16 August 2013
Beginning with a startlingly beautiful scene of a young girl alone in an ominous field at dusk, surrounded by a bounding pack of dogs and skittish cows, this film is instantly captivating - raising unanswerable questions and pulsing with the power of nature over human vulnerability. And so `Post Tenebras Lux' continues, as a series of vignettes with a few recurring characters and an elusive plot. The closest it comes to a conventional narrative is with the story of Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Nathalia (Nathalia Acevedo), a middle-class Mexican couple who, having moved their family to the country for a more wholesome life, find Juan's problems with addiction and violence unsettle their apparently idyllic life. The film slips back and forth through time without explanation depicting the couple and their children, a local tradesman, a French orgy, a rugby match and a haunting glowing red devil-like creature. A hard film to pin down, expectations twist from one scene to the next.
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.