Divisive director Carlos Reygadas returns to UK cinemas this week with Post Tenebras Lux (2012), yet another opaque experiment that utilises his distinctive style of aesthetic subterfuge to once again baffle and amaze audiences in equal measure. Attempting to condense the actions of his latest work into a simple synopsis proves to be a near-impossible task, as even the frail narrative framework that ties the film together is a deceptively splintered allegory, eschewing what it pertains to be. The fractured ‘plot’ focuses primarily on a retired golfer living in an isolated Mexican mansion with his young family.
Like a beautiful patchwork haphazardly welded together, Post Tenebras Lux never attempts to help the audience connect the aforementioned golfer with seemingly out-of-place excursions to a French brothel, the nightly apparitions of a luminous devil and the secondary school battlefield of a boarding school rugby match in a damp, grey and muddy English field. However, the knowledge that Reygadas once attend such a school leads to the belief that this might, just possibly, be an autobiographical piece – albeit one stitched together from the faintest of childish memories.
Opening with a picturesque scene observing a young girl frolicking in a rain-dampened field full of dogs and cattle, whilst an ominous storm threatens to erupt in the horizon, Post Tenebras Lux is a film of undeniable beauty, beset with imagery that whisks by like gentle whispers in the wind – always captivating, yet constantly perplexing. It’s difficult not to eventually tire of these visuals despite their mesmerising qualities. As the film advances and the narrative clues dry up like an arid desert of unfinished letters, it’s tough not to see Reygadas’ new work as little more than a series of vignettes, each one bellowing, “Respect me, for I am a metaphor for life and death and everything that happens betwixt.”
Despite this initial despondency, the film does loiter in your subliminal thoughts; like an unfinished chore that weighs on you conscious with an uncomfortable urgency. Reygadas’ own belief that Post Tenebras Lux is more than just a jigsaw missing several vital pieces is further enhanced by the use of a bevelled lens. Perhaps the implication is that by narrowing the audience’s focus so intently, there’s something we’re being forced to perceive. Sadly, the blurred and hazy effect of this technique also creates an illusory ambiance, forcing us to concentrate our attention as directed, yet also leaving you sceptical of a world fashioned in such a dreamlike and imaginary manner.
If you’re well-prepared for a voyage to the furthest, uncharted realms of cinematic surrealism, then Reygadas is a filmmaker who’ll gladly take you by the hand and show you things you’ve never seen before. It’s a commendable ability to add to his armoury, yet even the most ardent fans of experimental cinema could conceivably struggle with Post Tenebras Lux’s strident disregard for conventional structure, and may ultimately be reluctant to let this contentious director’s vivid dreams linger too long in the mind.
To read our interview with Post Tenebras Lux director Carlos Reygadas, simply follow this link.