A semi-autobiographic patchwork of family, sex and violence, Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux casts a distorted view over his own past, present and future.
Lights In The Dusk by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Starring his own children Rut and Eleazar, dedicated to his wife Natalia and located in the mountains of Morelos where Carlos Reygadas has his home, Post Tenebras Lux is a deeply personal stream of cinematic consciousness. Like its predecessors Japón, Battle In Heaven and Silent Light, it’s a heady mix of sex, spirituality, family and wrongdoing. Glimpses are offered achronologically into Reygadas’ life – memories, hopes, fantasies, fears and dreams playing out in Britain, Belgium, Spain and Mexico, all places where the Mexican director has lived. So it’s with some relief that Carlos Reygadas categorises his most autobiographic film to date as beyond reason, unhooking us from the arduous duty of interpreting his impressionist, expressionist montage which seeks to convey a new cinematic order beyond narrative. It’s a bold leap into the darkness. And after darkness, there is light.
Its title Post Tenebras Lux, meaning ‘light after darkness’ in Latin, provides only the wispiest of threads to lead us through Reygadas’ beautiful labyrinth. Most strikingly, using a distorted lens, Alexis Zabe’s cinematography bestows an otherworldly, ethereal aura on the people and places it depicts, framing them not so much as visions open to rational analysis but as icons to be appreciated emotionally in all their glorious physicality. A rotoscoped devil, with cloven hoof and forked tail, raises the protagonists’ fates out of the ordinary, casting the red light of evil on proceedings. As much as light and dark, Post Tenebras Lux is a film of binary opposites – good and evil, child and adult, pleasure and violence. But it’s perhaps the space between that’s most interesting – the twilight, a time occupied almost exclusively by children – from the opening sequence of Rut exploring a muddy cow field in the fading light to the sequence of an older Eleazar watching the sun go down over a purple-tinged beach.
In Reygadas’s cosmos, children are light-filled innocents, sheltered from the sex, violence and nostalgia of the adult world. Just as Rut is surrounded by but separate from the dogs chasing cows and horses in the opening reel, children are free-roaming untouchables, able to withstand a confrontation with the devil and his temptations. Adults on the other hand, are addicted to pleasure. Juan is hooked on internet pornography, unable to have sex with his wife without hard-core pixellated stimulation. Other villagers are hooked on alcohol, prostitutes or, in the case of the land-owner who employs petty criminal Seven to furtively cut down a mature tree simply to spite his sister, hate. Juan viciously beats his favourite dog for an unknown misdemeanour, while party guests at a Christmas meal rudely send a drunk friend packing. Each joy, from a kick during a rugby scrum to a vainglorious, bickering chess match, brings with it its own vice. For there is no pleasure without violence.
This violent pleasure principle is most keenly illustrated in Juan and Natalia’s sex life, which floats around the domestic hearth like a pheromone. Whispering in his wife’s ear his intention to have sex that night, her pleading of infection is parried with another thrust to take her by the back door. A Belgian orgy of saunas named after European philosophers and artists effects a violent blow to their marriage as Natalia, penetrated by an unknown man and cradled by a full-breasted woman, is watched by her husband. The devil, it appears, isn’t so much in the detail as in life. Even in the humdrum bosom of domesticity, the potential for evil is always lurking, always eager to shine its red light in our direction.
Unlike the spiritual austerity of Silent Light or the raw sexuality of Battle In Heaven, Post Tenebras Lux offers glimpses into Reygadas’s world vision on a more human and intimate scale. And inside its central current of domestic realism, there are frissons of ecstasy that cut through the everyday gloom – flashes of nudity and profanity as well as concepts invading from different genres, an animated phosphorescent devil and gory scenes of self-decapitation. Light, darkness, day, night. In this pell-mell of personal image, it’s hard to pluck a linear ray of conflict and hope, as its title would suggest, of light from the dark. But like Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder or The Tree Of Life, Post Tenebras Lux conjures a violent impression of human experience in all its glorious variety. It’s a distorted vision, but beautiful all the same.
Post Tenebras Lux is released on 22nd March 2013 in the UK