Starring: Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Nathalie Acevedo, Willebaldo Torres
You may like this if you liked: To the Wonder (Terence Malick, 2012), The Banishment (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2007), Keane (Lodge Kerrigan, 2004)
Translating as Latin for “light after darkness”, Post Tenebras Lux is an unconventional story that centres on Juan (Castro) and his middle class family who have recently moved from the city to rural Mexico. With them we experience the stresses and strains of their relationship as well the inevitable conflicts that arise from a wealthy family moving into a huge house that is surrounded by many living in poverty. While we witness this we also witness flashes forward and backward to a school Rugby match in England, A sordid sex club for couples in a spa and an image of a red CGI satyr devil like creature walking through the couple’s house. We also witness a local AA club and its various members including a man referred to as ‘El Siete’ (Torres), a man with his own addiction and family problems that will ultimately become involved with the problems of Juan and his family.
The opening scene of Post Tenebras Lux is a child’s dream as they walk through a field as the sky gets ever darker; this is then followed by the CGI red devil like creature walking through the house. We already know we are not in for an easy ride in terms of narrative structure and conventional story telling. In my view, Post Tenebras Lux is one of those films that are a different experience meaning different things to different viewers. I therefore apologise in advance if I fail to actually review this film in a conventional way. Though I will start by stating that I personally thought it was a perfect example of deeply involving and thought provoking film making. I would also strongly recommend seeing this film at a cinema as the sound design is exceptional.
When it comes to films that perhaps require a degree of thought and attention, I just try to watch it with an open mind and try (with admitted difficulty) to avoid drawing any premature conclusions. For a film like Trance I never tried to second guess what was going to happen or the inevitable big twist. Whereas for To the Wonder I thought about what the story was about after I had seen the entire film and could analyse the narrative as a whole. For me, due to the ‘unconventional’ narrative of Post Tenebras Lux I just sat and watched trying to avoid interpreting anything. I tried to leave interpreting and analysing till when I could analyse the film as a whole as it would then make so much more sense. There are plenty of moments when you are a little unsure of whom anyone is and what is going on, so it is therefore best not to think too much about it and just take the information you are given. When the film has finished you are in a much stronger position to be aware of the context of every scene. This is particularly important for a film such as Post Tenebras Lux as it not so much about a clear A to B story, but themes and ideas that dominate the narrative.
Unfortunately the word ‘complex’ or when saying you ‘get’ a film are words banded about far too often for my liking. It feels that these days a vast majority of the human race like things labelled clearly and to fit neat and tidily into boxes. Films are most definitely no exception and when a film can’t quite fit nicely into some kind of category it seems people are almost scared of it. If a film does not have a nice tidy little conventional narrative a vast majority of people quickly label it as ‘pretentious’ or ‘making no sense’ without even giving it a chance.
In my view Post Tenebras Lux is not a complicated film, it is unconventional in terms of narrative structure compared to a classical Hollywood narrative yes, but that is not the same as complicated. For me, this film just shows real people in everyday situations, with the occasional metaphor. For me there is actually nothing to, as people seem to say ‘get’. It is not about that at all, and that almost misses the point in my view and destroys what the director is trying to depict, especially as Post Tenebras Lux is apparently autobiographical.
We all have our own personal ideologies, philosophies and views on life. In my view, with a film like Post Tenebras Lux your own personal experience of it and one you get out of it depends on those ideologies. This idea can of course be applied to any film, but especially films like this which simply depict real life. All this film presents is non judgemental subjective depictions of real life situations, held together by a perhaps unconventional narrative. We see people do bad things, good things both to themselves and other people as well as animals and nature. However, they are just shown and never judged. It is therefore us the viewer that judges them with our own unique and personal set of ideologies and prejudices. This therefore makes the experience of the film and our own interpretation of what the film means being very personal and unique to every individual viewer. We are almost the protagonist and we may well have our own character arcs too as films can sometimes change certain views or perceptions we may have. Haneke is a perfect example of this with films such as Funny Games and Hidden where we the viewer is basically told off by the film.
In a film such as Post Tenebras Lux we are shown various characters from various socio economic backgrounds and thrown head first into their lives. We are given no information or introduction and we inevitably form our own opinions of them. We of course get some information as the narrative progresses but has our tendency to label people already influenced our opinions on certain characters? It almost feels to me that these days the average film viewer panics if they are not spoon fed all the necessary facts straight away. This once again leads to the complicated or ‘pretentious nonsense’ label. As I said earlier I try to just watch then interpret and analyse at the end. Of course I am only human so some of my personal ideologies and views will inevitably affect my experience of the film.
If you have certain views on people or society then you will personally find that Post Tenebras Lux is basically about those views. How the phrase ‘light after darkness’ is applied to what happens within the narrative will indeed vary between viewers, just as what some of the metaphors perhaps mean. Maybe Reygadas has his own personal reasons for them being there but by producing a film of this structural nature he has produced a film is also personal for us. Some would argue the scenes not involving the couple have very little to do with the actual story of them, but it is the couple that is part of a bigger story. Also the story of the family and the story of El Siete are linked and theories as to why they are and how it refers to the title will I expect vary between viewers. This is once again proof of how film can be thought provoking and emotionally engaging as well a great source of debate. Indeed I am sure there are many that disagree with what I have just said (If so please tell me). I do find it both upsetting and disappointing that just because it is not ‘conventional’ (whatever that really is?), Post Tenebras Lux is labelled as complicated and therefore people are put off watching it. Art is about pushing boundaries and defying convention, being engaging and thought provoking and being open to interpretation. It seems that a vast majority of people just do not want film to do that anymore. Of course film is a source of entertainment and I know I will thoroughly enjoy Iron Man 3, but sometimes I feel it is important for a film to feel that little more personal.
My personal top 10 of 2012 included no blockbusters for the simple fact that as much as I thoroughly enjoyed many of them, they were simply instantly forgettable. Characters and situations that a viewer can personally relate to provide a thoroughly more involving and personal experience of watching a film, but it seems that anyone given a substantial budget is scared to even attempt this.
When I saw this at the cinema four people walked out. This was due to a particular scene that was very sexually explicit. It was also the only scene that was sexually explicit, but it was not there for the sake of it. Some may argue it added nothing to the narrative, and I admit that argument could be justified. However, the scene was uncomfortable and when taken into context served a purpose.
I once again apologise if this may perhaps not be a comprehensive review, but at least I feel a little better! There are so many universal themes presented within the narrative: The ups and downs and the power struggles of a relationship, class, masculinity, sexual desires, jealousy, a child’s imagination, man’s relationship with animals and nature, alcoholism and addiction, greed and the shallow materialism of humans to name a few. We all have personal experience and personal opinions on these subjects and it is these that shape our experience of Post Tenebras Lux. This produces a very involving, personal and thought provoking experience.
Post Tenebras Lux can be described as ‘unconventional’ and I know will it will appeal not appeal to a vast majority of cinema goers. Admittedly it is not an easy watch at first and requires patience; however Post Tenebras Lux is a film I would recommend if you fancy something a little bit more personal and rewarding and I only I hope I have somehow done it some justice.