Post Tenebras Lux Dir. Carlos Reygadas

[Strand Releasing; 2013]

Styles: drama
Others: Stellet licht, The Tree of Life (Sorry, Carlos!)

Like Carlos Reygadas’s 2007 film Stellet licht, Post Tenebras Lux is basically about a father and shitty husband we’re supposed to empathize with. Both films have two absolutely beautiful scenes and a bunch of lovely shots. And like the earlier film, this one doesn’t tempt me to see it again. (Except that I did see it twice for the purposes of writing this review, the first time in February and the second time last week.) So I guess it’s kind of like life! Hahaha. But for real, this kind of close-mic’d, quiet meditation is realist in the sense that it avoids obsession with the magical horrors of the unconscious even as they gurgle through the screen or whisper at its edges. The devil actually appears, twice, repetitiously… but he’s a solid red two-dimensional figure with a tail and horns and a dick and toolbox.

Right. So this film is a patchwork of vignettes of indeterminate metaphysical status. Due to a third-scene implication, these vignettes could all be dreams; they could all almost equally be not-dreams. Lending many scenes a dreamlike quality is the ring around the frame that doubles and blurs the image. It looks as if the camera lens were cut roughly at the edges. I don’t have any real technical insight into it, but take my word for it that it’s both distracting and ignorable. Perhaps it holds out the promise of a definitive reading through which all lens-effect scenes are dreams. Largely irrelevant. Resonates with the title, but only if you take the title to be tongue-in-cheek. There’s no light in the film after the darkness of the film, but the film does draw attention to the possibility that the lux post tenebras is simply literal light: the light arriving on the actual world from the Sun.

This film is probably not about Protestant gratitude for the recovery of the Gospel.

I’m having trouble writing this review, because I feel pretty blah about my second viewing. I’ll admit that the first time I saw it, I was much more taken in by the atmospherics and optics. The second time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the film was taking things — its things — too seriously. This movie moves me like a movie. I’m listening to pop music videos as I type this, because any situation in which people pretend to be people while knowing that (or feeling like) they’re being watched is already like a music video, whether there’s musical accompaniment yet or not. (That’s why our lives are soundtracked now, duh! Thanks, iPods, Spotify, Songza, et al.)

Only two scenes really matter in this film. So I guess I’ll tell you about those. Actually, first I’ll tell you about some little moments that are worth noting. Some older MJ-smoking dudes play chess and shoot the shit. One dude, younger and less white, leans against the ramshackle house, and a chunk crumbles out of the wall. The other dude, older and whiter, says something like, “That’s okay, you need something to lean on.” There’s a tense beat before the younger guy retorts, “We all do.” The film is about wealthy European Mexicans. We watch them. We only really hear about the poor Mexicans. In another scene, Juan and Natalia visit a French bathhouse where people fuck each other in rooms named after Hegel and Duchamp. It’s amusing until it’s disturbing. (I’m reading my notes now and I see that I wrote down “beauty problems,” but you’re going to have to fill in that blank yourself.) I’d characterize these moments as symptomatic, rather than diagnostic.

Okay, so back to the two important scenes, which absolutely should not be accounted for in clinical terms. The film opens with a very little Rut (Rut Reygadas) wobbling through a muddy field in resplendent light and colors, cows and dogs and horses and donkeys mobilizing around her. Then a storm starts to roll in. When Rut starts calling out for mommy instead of vacas, things are looking less cute than when they started. Cut to black. Thunder. Lightning! Elegant titles sit one word at time. Talk about full-body shivers. The sublime still exists, folks.

Important scene #2. The climax of the film has Juan lying in bed dying. After Natalia plays a heartbroken (for her), heart-wrenching (for us) rendition of Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream” on the piano, she lies down with Juan and listens to him recover the Gospel, which is to say home. See, Rut’s lost in a dream-field when a dream-storm threatens to overtake her before she can get home. Juan returns to childhood memories and makes life a dream-life before he dies in order to hurry dream-home before he loses it all for real. “Today, I felt love for all things,” he says. “Everything is alive, shining, all the time,” he says. Amen, brother. He asks Natalia to bring him his beloved dogs before she goes off to watch a movie with the kids.

An important item I haven’t mentioned yet is that, after a heartwarming romp on the matrimonial bed with the naked young’uns, Juan goes out to see his dogs and ends up beating one badly for doing something inconsequentially naughty. And then after Juan gets home spiritually and his unconditionally loving dogs join him, presumably, we the audience have to listen to a dog whimper as it’s run over by a pickup truck on a dirt road in the forest. To quote a YouTube commenter, “In my opinion, this song is a metaphor for life. I think that is what Neil Young intended.”

Man, this is irresponsible. I should try harder to make beautiful reviews.

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