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DVD Review: ‘Post Mortem’

★★★★☆
The third feature from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, Post Mortem (2010) is a bleak, deeply melancholic portrait of his country of birth, set in the capital city of Santiago during the Pinochet coup d’état of 1973. Comparable with Luis Puenzo’s 1985 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner The Official Story, the film focuses on the impact of national socio-political events upon a few select characters amid violent protests and a host of sinister disappearances. Larraín regular Alfredo Castro plays Mario, a lonely, reclusive soul who splits his time between being besotted with his cabaret-dancing neighbour Nancy (Antonia Zegers) and typing up autopsy results as a pathologist’s assistant at a local morgue.

Seemingly unaffected by the hugely significant political events happening around him, Mario begins a love affair with Nancy, but following the death of Chile’s socialist-leaning President Salvador Allende, a series of violent acts of retribution against Santiago’s population threatens more than just the pair’s awkward, fledgling relationship. Whilst some may come into Post Mortem with at best a rudimentary knowledge of the 1973 Chilean coup, Larraín restricts our view of the developing crisis, showing only key points intrinsic to the lives of Mario and Nancy – young revolutionaries are viewed as love rivals by our retiring protagonist, whilst Nancy’s disappearance following a military raid pushes Mario into the reluctant role of knight in shining armour (even rescuing and caring for an injured dog).

Castro proves a fine cipher for the Chilean everyman, a politically-disconnected bachelor dragged into a destructive battle for the soul of an entire nation. Unkempt and undeniably unattractive, Mario could not be further removed from the dashing young poster boys of socialist rebellion – and is all the more watchable for it. His world revolves around mundanity, be it frying up a meagre portion of eggs or stoically observing his morgue superiors as they dissect the coup’s latest innocent victim.

Whilst undeniably a suffocating, slow-burning slice of world cinema, one can’t help but praise Larraín for sticking to his guns and refusing to gloss over one of the most desperate, horrific period’s in Chile’s history. The extraordinary five minute-plus long take that closes Post Mortem was perhaps one of the most extraordinary pieces of cinematography in 2011, and almost for that shot alone, Larraín’s latest demands (and deserves) your time and attention.

Daniel Green