Saturday, November 10, 2012

Post tenebras lux

Carlos Reygadas burst on the scene as an unapologetically pretentious arthouse director with Japón [2002], and gained instant renown/notoriety in the circles that care. This was cemented with Battle In Heaven [2005], but the calmed down Silent Light [2007] won over many of the put-off. For Post Tenebras Lux, however, he returns to his first inclinations with a vengeance.

Partially, this seems to be a film about family. Reygadas’ own kids play the offspring of a couple who live in a handsome house in rural Mexico (Reygadas’ own). They have some unspecified issues in their sex life, and Juan recognizes his own problems with Internet porn addiction (unseen) and dog abuse (not actually seen, but unpleasantly conveyed by his unexpected and violent beating, and the whining soundtrack). There’s also a handyman who has lost his family through his own drink and drug addictions before the movie starts, and regains them ambiguously near the end; but then, presumably in a supreme act of contrition, and a supremely audacious film-making move, he pulls off his own head.

This is a remarkable moment, but Reygadas has long since wasted away our respect and interest. Willful obscurity is the order of the day: chronology is jumbled, indicated only by the ages of the kids; no scene bears any relation to its abutting ones; everything outdoors is filmed with a weirdo lens of blurred vignetting and strange edge-echoing that is occasionally rather beautiful, but quickly becomes tiresome.

With the narrative so non-existent, and character so obliquely sketched, the remarkable moments become the point of the film. Frankly, I would have walked out were I not hoping for some resolution or return of the super-strange red silhouette devil figure who appears in the second scene, creeping into the night-time house with a toolbox. For what? We will never know, beyond assuming that it represents something vaguely unsettling in the home/family (it does return, but to no effect whatsoever). There’s also a very strange sex club in Belgium the couple visits, presumably some years beyond the main tense of the film, which is captivating for its oddity, but really has nothing more going for it than that. Many people have been seduced by the opening, of a child running around a puddled field with cows, horses, and dogs, before dusk and a violent storm come on; beyond the pretty reflections, however, it’s no great shakes – on their own, the vivid lightening flashes that dramatically silhouette the little girl’s head are striking enough for one to ignore their obvious fakeness, but are rendered distractingly artificial by no effort to marry the vague thunder-rumbling on the audio.

This is a film entirely of effect, not character or emotion, and so, pretty as the photography may be in a dawn duck-hunt, the scene itself carries no relevance or resonance. Calling the rooms in the sex-club “Hegel” and “Duchamp” is as tantalizingly evocative as a brief conversation about Russian literature at a family party, but no more significant. It is a provocative shock to be transported suddenly to an English boys’ school rugby dressing room, presumably where the son has been sent, although there’s no way to recognize which one he is, and the final nail in the coffin of the film’s failure to succeed emotionally or thematically is a return to the rugby team, now on the field, and bucking themselves up at half-time with the film’s emphatic and poorly delivered (deliberate? Quite possibly) closing line – the other team is made of individuals, but we are a team. One can charitably integrate this into what Reyagdas may be saying about families, but in that case it is a stunningly obvious cap to a theme woefully under-exploited by what has gone before.

The title is a clue, an always vague phrase that has been appropriated for all kinds of implications, from the Calvinists to Harry Potter fan fiction. One is really forced to guess what this film is about, what so many things in it have to do with the rest, and why anyone would want to make such an infuriatingly obscure jumble. It feels strongly as though Reygadas wants to test audience tolerance, nowhere more so than in the wife’s ghastly out of tune – both piano and voice – rendition of a ghastly Neil Young song. He knows how to give good arthouse film, but he has absolutely nothing to say with it: effect is all and it’s wearing terribly thin.

d/sc Carlos Reygadas p Jaime Romandia ph Alexis Zabe ed Natalia López pd Gerardo Tagle cast Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Nathalia Acevedo, Willebaldo Torres, Rut Reygadas, Eleazar Reygadas
(2012, Mex/Fr/Ger/Neth, 120m)
posted by tom newth at

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