Post Tenebras Lux | Blu-ray Review
Reportedly, Post Tenebras Lux was met with a hail of boos by critics and audience members alike upon its premiere at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, yet the Mexican director Carlos Reygadas was (to many, astonishingly) awarded the Director’s Prize by the Nanni Moretti headed jury. In hindsight, the split response is completely reasonable. Thanks to its surreal impulses and confusingly detached editing, the film might appear anything but a straightforward narrative. On its first watch, it may seem to be little more than a mish-mash of bleak ideology and half baked ideas, but Reygadas’ most personal work to date rewards with multiple viewings. With disjointed multiple timelines and ambiguously shifting character perspectives, Post Tenebras Lux weaves an austere narrative around the crumbling of family life in rural Mexico while dropping in autobiographical c(l)ues of Reygadas’ own upbringing in often breathtakingly beautiful moments of serene cinema.
If anything positive managed to make its way through the pipelines of the interwebs during Cannes, it was praise for the film’s astounding opening sequence in which Reygadas’ own daughter, Rut, who stands in as a fictional self, plods through a puddled field amongst grazing livestock and a herd of canine at dusk, at first playfully curious and eventually visually worried as a lightning storm rolls in and darkness ascends. Alone, this all too brief sequence is a perfect bit of filmmaking, gorgeously allowing the beauty of nature to transform into the stuff of childhood nightmares. The subsequent scene visually deviates from the real by literally diving headlong into hallucinatory bad dreams while remaining thematically aligned. Enigmatically, we are introduced to a CGI devil, projecting a pure red glow from his entire being, as he enters the home of the film’s central family, peeks into the room of the wide awake, silently gazing son, Eleazer, another real life child of Reygadas, before entering the parental bedchambers without obvious motive. Though the film’s title is latin for ‘Light After Darkness’, the visual metaphor that persists here serves to contradict, for this is the story of two families soon to be mangled by the consequences of addiction and faltering matrimony.
Without the imposed constraints of the filmmaker’s awkward edit, the narrative is actually quite straightforward. A youthful, well off couple, named Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo), live in the outskirts of a rural Mexican village with their two bubbly toddlers. In the wake of childbirth, their sexual relationship has been almost non-existent and Juan’s addiction to internet porn hasn’t helped matters. Hoping to heat things up, they try indulging in a swingers bathhouse in which different rooms are named mysteriously after famed philosophers – to no avail. Along with a friend named Seven, Juan even attends an AA meeting with hopes of sharing his experience of addiction and freeing himself of guilt. As it turns out, Seven’s life has been shattered by his own, much harder addictions. In a drug fueled haze, his wife and children left him years before to rot in jail and have seemingly disappeared into the ether since his release. Yet, in a small town where dirty deeds are often overlooked, he can’t seem to leave that life of crime completely behind, and in a moment of red handed panic, his chances of regaining the family life he continues to pine for are washed away in a rain of blood.
By piecing this loose narrative together in emotionally cold, yet visually rapturous takes that often span years between cuts without warning, all the while being framed in the antiquated academy ratio with an often appearing ring of repetitive distortion that allows only the center of the screen to remain completely in focus, it’s easy to see why some viewers have been left scratching their heads. The most asked question of all – why are we shown a British high school rugby match on two occasions, one of which is the film’s final sequence? A random biographical cue dropped in from his own boarding school days playing rugby in Derbyshire? Or are one of these growing lads a later embodiment of Eleazer, a boy who’s so far detached from his tattered family he has been sent across oceans to escape the pain and memories of his childhood with hopes of learning communion through sport? The film’s hokey yet poignant final lines spouted from a team huddle seems to say it all – ‘They’ve got individuals. We’ve got a team. So come on, let’s go!’ Post Tenebras Lux, indeed.
It’s taken a while for Strand Releasing to get on board with the whole Blu-ray thing, having only released two in the last couple years (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff). Thankfully, their latest doesn’t disappoint. Post Tenebras Lux looks glorious in HD. Both of my prior viewings had been on DVD screeners or HD streams, but this was a totally different experience. The fine textural detail in the green overgrowth that engulfs many scenes is quite brilliant, while natural colors pop in their naturally photographed beauty. Though the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track doesn’t impress quite as much, mostly because it’s restricted entirely to ambiance and fairly restrained dialogue, it comes across as naturally suited. The disc also packs a few extras, though more for extra ogling than actual edification.
Here we get an extended sequence involving Seven, in which we learn of his last botched employment opportunity, an extended party sequence at Juan and Natalia’s residence, an excursion to a shopping center with Seven and some of his questionable acquaintances and a should bound walk through the woods with Rut and Natalia. Each scene is given the context of where it would rest in the film with snippets placed before and after each sequence from the film. 14 min
Shot with cell phones and flip cams, this is a series of on location shots, often just taking in the sights from that day, occasionally showing the film crew setting up for a shoot or Carlos interacting with the actors, but more often than not, just documenting Rut and Eleazer at play, totally oblivious to the actions of those around them. 33 min
Employing the wondrous tones of ambient music to project a mood of wonder on the lively images that line the film, this trailer is a bit misleading, but more enticing than one that would play visually exact, but aurally bare. 2 min
Post Tenebras Lux will surely continue to split audiences into two camps – disturbed naysayers or awed and inspired admirers. Reygadas surely captures Mexican (sur)realism with an eye for natural beauty while directing his often unprofessional actors with an understanding that teases out an authentic naturalism unlike anything else coming out of the region. The film is not an easy one to fully appreciate, but it remains one of the very best of the last couple years. Strand Releasing should be applauded for supporting such a difficult work and treating it to such a brilliant transfer, but would it be too much to ask for some critical reflection in the extras? Even without, we heartily endorse.