Screened as part of NZIFF 2013
Post Tenebras Lux (‘light after darkness’) is a palpably sensual autobiographical feature from Mexican director Carlos Reygadas (Japón, Silent Light), winner of the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2012. Set primarily in lush Mexican countryside, it’s a portrait of a bourgeois family living in the violent embrace of burgeoning nature – but it also fires off in other directions entirely, blazing with the spiritual and psychological terrors of its author in mid-life meltdown. Flooded with unforgettable, ominous images from the opening sequence where Reygadas’ real-life infant daughter wanders a muddy field as farm animals circle, thunder roars and lightning flashes, or a neon-red demon moves stealthily through bedrooms, Post Tenebras Lux is pure cinema: primal, mystifying and enthralling.
“Entrancingly beautiful and calculated to confound, Carlos Reygadas’ first feature since Silent Light is as beguiling a cinematic object as one is likely to encounter this year. Met with boos following its premiere at Cannes last year (although it went on to win the Best Director prize), Post Tenebras Lux represents Reygadas’ attempt to make a personal work in which autobiographical content is lyrically transfigured and elevated to cosmic heights…
In interviews, Reygadas has been reluctant to sort out the scrambled chronology of Post Tenebras Lux or to explain how certain ostensibly unconnected scenes… fit together with the main action, or what they mean. He has elaborated on the film’s signature formal device: a blurring distortion at the edges of almost all exterior shots that causes figures to take on a ghostly aspect as they fall out of focus and sometimes become doubled. For Reygadas this technique approximates the experience of looking through an imperfect pane of glass, and the distorted images express the way in which visual perception is informed by a host of desires, however unconscious. Setting aside the symbolic dimension, the results are, more often than not, gorgeous.
Post Tenebras Lux is a film rich with sheer material presence, making good on Reygadas’s apparent intention to make the viewer truly feel the audible and the visible, but his pictorial gimmickry can only do so much aesthetic heavy-lifting. In the end this is a painterly meditation on the interplay of vision, memory and imagination, and a quasi-diaristic account of the impressions that set the imagination to work. It amounts to watching the dissolution of the boundary between life and art, through a glass darkly.” — Dan Sullivan, Film Comment