Thursday, 1 August 2013

Post Tenebras Lux (2013, Carlos Reygadas)

Why do we invest ourselves in cinema? Levels of interest will of course vary among film goers; some just want a good story, a clearly defined case of good verses evil. Some like to be reinforced by a film of heightened idealism or comforted by closed romantic realism. But like all art forms that existed before and after cinema, all the way back to the cave paintings of thousands of years ago, cinema at its core and most profound is about shared experience and an attempt to enter another mind through these experiences. This is what director Carlos Reygadas has attempted to do with Post Tenebras Lux more so than any other film he or arguably anyone else has ever created.

While at times spellbinding it is also intensely testing. In neutral, I absorb cinema that will push my imagination and force me to invest emotionally and intellectually; Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness, Light) tinkers dangerously in extreme esoterics that keeps it mysteriously aloof and alienting. Though I don't doubt this is an accident or mistake on Reygadas' part, this is the aim of the film.

The film's opening scene is unlike anything else I've experienced - a sublime scene that abstractly deals, undefinably, with primal fears. A young girl of perhaps the age of 3 is frolicking innocently with a heard of mixed animals at what appears to be the boggy foot of a mountain. She joyously chases and calls after dogs, horses, and cows. Images that are for us just as joyous to endure. Yet as night falls slowly and the landscape decends into darkness the animals gradually disapear and the girl is alone, calling for her parents.

It's a scene of candid beauty and dreamlike terror captured effortlessly by Reygadas, who shows the same natural wonder and 'invisable' performance seen in his previous Silent Light. Utilising the academy aspect ratio and lenses that blur the edges of the frame it makes for a fresh visual sense that is equally, and I'm sure purposefully, frustrating. More on that later.

The film jumps from scene to unconnected scene. Some characters and scenarios are ruccuring such as a well-off family of five in the Mexican hills and the poor members of a local AA meet. Others aren't delivered with as much logic such as a segement involving a teenage British rugby team, a French underground orgy club, and a cartoonish devil who visits an unknown (to us) family's house at night, toolkit in tow.

Some of these scenes have moments of affecting truth and pain; a gravely ill husband and father reminisces over his childhood memories and feelings in bed, and the lives of the hillside communities are never less than intrigueing as Reygadas' cast of non-actors go about their daily lives. It unfolds almost in documentary form and makes for a fascinating insight into a minute, largely unknown of culture.

For all the ambition on display and the admirable reaching for a pure cinema, Post Tenebras Lux will be more to some than others purely depending on how much Reygadas' images stirs the viewer
. I wasn't stirred by the film and was left impressed at a distance. It's a fearless, language pushing film to be marvelled, yet for its 'profound' message pointed to through its blinkered visuals - that the world offers more than any individual can ever register - it remains an uninviting experience that lacks the resonance I was aching for throughout. Resonance I expected due to how achingly personal the film is to its creator. There is, I guess, such a thing as too personal, as we can only vicariously feel an experience if it echoes in some form one of our own. For the most part Post Tenebras Lux, for better or for worse, is a world too apart from.

That opening scene, however, is a tour de force and one of the major highlights of 2013.

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