Sunday, September 16, 2012


"Reason will intervene as little as possible" - Carlos Reygadas

Within the first two scenes of Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas' latest film that would make Andrei Tarkovsky proud, I was immediately reminded of Uncle Boonmee, To The Wonder (which I'd just seen the day before) and The Tree Of Life. In one of the film's earliest scenes we see an animated glowing red demon lurking through a house at night and right away you're reminded of the ghostly red-eyed figure at the beginning of Uncle Boonmee who lurks around in that same slow creepy way. The heightened sounds of the crickets, wind, tree branches and other night time sounds are also reminiscent of not just Uncle Boonmee but Apichatpong Weerasethakul's overall style. The comparison to Terrence Malick, which many critics made after seeing Post Tenebras Lux at Cannes, is also pretty understandable. After all, Reygadas' new film does deal with extreme stream of consciousness centered around a family in the same surreal/dreamy style as The Tree Of Life minus the loud classical music. In my opinion it actually takes that exploration into the stream of consciousness to the next level. The non linear style not only bounces back & forth between what might be the present and what might be the future but there are many moments that'll have you scratching your head and/or contemplating long after it’s over (this film has been stuck in my head for the last four days). Post Tenebras Lux also has some of the same dreamy elements as Alexander Sokurov's work (specifically Moloch & Taurus). But all Tree Of Life/Uncle Boonmee/Sokurov comparisons aside, this is still very much a Carlos Reygadas film with his own ideas. Before the screening at TIFF, lead actress; Nathalia Acevado advised the audience to feel the film rather than try to understand it right away. May sound like pretentious crap to some of you but after watching this I couldn't think of any better advice. I don't mean to sound so dramatic but Post Tenebras Lux, which does have a plot, feels more like an actual dream than any David Lynch film could imagine being with the exception of Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive (and this is coming from a hardcore David Lynch fan). It’s as if Reygadas finally discovered a way to record dreams, daydreams & random thoughts and project them on to the screen. It’s obvious many of the thoughts and feelings in Post Tenebras Lux belong to Reygadas himself and the fact that he cast his own children and used his actual house in the film (he developed the first ideas for Post Tenebras Lux while constructing his home) just kinda confirms the personal feel. The opening scene where we see the little girl (Reygadas' real life daughter) running and playing in the field looks like a personal home video rather than an actual movie...

Post Tenebras Lux                                                                                Uncle Boonmee
My only worry when it comes to Post Tenebras Lux is that although I do think it’s a frontrunner for best film of the year (along with The Avengers which couldn't be any more opposite) more people will be turned off by it than turned on which is a shame because this felt like a masterpiece right away. If I told you this film featured scenes of bath house orgies, a dog being viciously beaten, blood raining from the sky and a man literally ripping off his own head (and I assure you, all of these things happen in the film) you'd probably be either turned off or get the wrong impression. But trust me when I say you shouldn’t. I guess the best I can do is to reiterate what Nathalia Acevado told us which is to feel rather than try to understand it so much.

Post Tenebras Lux centers around a family (Juan, Nathalia and they're two children) living in a beautiful modern house in rural Mexico. Juan seems to have a temper (yet he doesn't take it out on his wife or kids) and belongs to some kind of a 12 step anger management group. He’s also having marital problems highlighted by sexual frustrations with Nathalia (in one awkward scene they go to a bath house together for sexual pleasure and in another scene they have an argument after Juan makes a strange announcement that he wants to have anal sex with her later). Eventually Juan has a near-fatal encounter with another member of his anger management group (or is the encounter fatal? The film is intentionally vague about that). Post Tenebras Lux deals with elements of redemption, good versus evil and obvious stuff I already mentioned like anger and how it can either control or take you over, family, marriage and dreams. Some great films have the ability to make one think of elements in their own life and Post Tenebras Lux kinda did that with me. Living far out in a rural area away from New York City (although with plenty of modern technology at my disposal) is a random fantasy that pops in and out of my head from time to time. There's this belief in the back of my head that living in a nice house away from the big city, like our main characters in the film do, that all the problems in the world will be greatly diminished and I'd be in paradise. Clearly that's ridiculous and Post Tenebras Lux helps to emphasize this ridiculousness by showing the anger issues, marital issues and the dangerous encounter Juan has. Simply running off to live far away from things doesn't make life perfect. And I really can’t mention enough about how much this film feels like a genuine dream. The most noticeable element of Post Tenebras Lux is the look of the film. Reygadas intentionally distorts things with an almost blurry/double vision POV perspective with all four corners of the screen having this watery effect to it. As one critic already pointed out: imagine watching a movie with beer goggles on although not as distracting or difficult to see through.

A major issue some people had with Post Tenebras Lux when it showed at Cannes (where it was booed) was that they felt the film came off like a bunch of half explored/half thought up ideas thrown together. I can kinda see why someone would say that off of one initial viewing but to me Post Tenebras Lux kinda came off like a beautiful sketchbook from an amazingly talented artist. And not some cheap notepad with doodles on every page. I'm talking about one of those nice hardcover art store sketchbooks used by people like Robert Crumb. There's a reason sketchbooks from famous artists are sold for tons of money (if you remember in the Robert Crumb documentary his sketchbooks were auctioned off for so much money that it allowed him to move to France and live). Having a sketchbook is something I'm familiar with as I was an Architect major and sketching, although I wasn't good at it, is a huge part of the curriculum. Once again the film has me dipping in to my own personal life (architecture). A sketchbook may seem like a bunch of random drawings from page to page but when you look closer you see a lot of the same elements, figures and techniques on most of the pages that tie everything together. That's what Post Tenebras Lux is to me. The glowing red demon we see at the beginning of the film seems out of place at first but then we see it again towards the end. A lot of the scenes in the film have that same blurry and disorienting look to it. The man ripping his own head off seems random at first but it’s clearly a scene about redemption and a comment on anger and how it can control you. Sure there's other random elements throughout the film (that all carry some important meaning as random as they may seem) but what makes it grounded at the same time is that it does have a very personal, semi-autobiographical plot. Like I said in my To The Wonder write-up (which in my opinion felt like a first cousin to Post Tenebras Lux) - the majority of people who end up seeing this film are probably somewhat familiar with Carlos Reygadas so you should kinda know what to expect without this review I just wrote. True, this is his most experimental film but it still has elements from all his previous work (especially his last two features). When the credits rolled I heard everything from: "what the hell did I just watch?" to "wow, I think that's his best film".

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