Post Tenebras Lux (2012)

Directed by Carlos Reygadas

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This is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever seen.  It’s amazing.

I knew nothing about Post Tenebras Lux going in, and that’s good because no description could prepare you for what this movie is.  I’m not even sure what it is, but it’s going to be one I have to chew on for a while.

The first thing that stands out is the cinematography, with it’s frayed edges and 1:33:1 aspect ratio.  It’s Terrence Malick meets A Ghost Story/First Reformed/Ida/Cold War with the content of a David Lynch movie.  The color is often vibrant, there is plenty of magic hour shots (including the opening sequence), and the framing is, well I liked it.  I liked the way it looked, you get it.

The story involves a family with two young children moving out to the countryside somewhere.  The opening sequence follows the daughter, Rut, as she runs around a field with a series of horses and dogs.  It’s incredibly dreamlike, and like much of the rest of the film it’s unclear what is real within the movie.  In just about every scene the focus seems to be on the abstract, the emotion or the subtext.  Nothing is literal, but everything is imbued with some other sense of stakes, like there’s a fight going on for the viewer’s very soul.

I guess that’s because this is a movie about the seven deadly sins, at least I think?  One of the characters is actually just named Seven, and he’s a character who later steals from the father of the family and nearly shoots him dead.  He’s also the character who, if I remember correctly, stands in an empty field and somewhat calmly pulls his own head off, as you do.

This movie is certainly sparse, letting the silences play out, but when it wants to be it can get quite loud.  The serenity of such pastoral silences are balanced out with scenes of domestic chaos of a sort.  We watch the family play around in bed when they wake up in the morning, and we watch the children run around and visit their Great Grandmother at a large family gathering.  Characters talk over each other like in a Robert Altman movie in these scenes.

It also might just be that I wasn’t paying enough attention, but I swear the two children suddenly appear at different ages throughout the movie.  They might be around four years old when we meet them, but later they seem to be a few years older, and in an even later scene we see two teenagers at the beach who I believed to be these same characters.  Next thing you know we’re back to the same young performers as from the beginning.

It’s impossible to spoil this movie because it just feels like a series of puzzle pieces glimpsed individually or in partial construction.  You will see the same puzzle pieces, but the bigger picture you imagine in your head might be different than the one I see.

There’s a long sequence involving a bath house and a lot of spousal trading, there’s a make shift Alcoholics Anonymous meeting somewhere in the forest, and how could I forget the glowing red demon with a blue toolbox who bookends the movie.  That and the rugby match somewhere in Europe that is otherwise entirely disconnected from this Mexico-based story.

If Post Tenebras Lux weren’t so visually intoxicating I might have less patience for it, but I found the whole experience pretty exhilarating.  That mostly has to do with feeling like director Carlos Reygadas knows what he’s doing.  Even in the most abstract moments of the film, no matter how long the silences there is a definite sense of intention, like we’re watching unfold a long, intricate magic trick that requires only our careful observation in order to pull it off.

Up Next: Three Kings (1999), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

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