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Cat’s Cradle: Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux (2012) – DVD review

July 15, 2013 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

You know how most films are? Flip it upside down, turn it upside down, add a radioactive devil, and you’re halfway to Reygadas’ unorthodox vision.

Post Tenebras Lux
(Carlos Reygadas, 2012)

Many filmmakers have turned to their own lives for material, from the reimaging of Francois Truffaut as Antoine Doinel to Federico Fellini passing on his own director’s block to his characters.  In Post Tenebras Lux, Carlos Reygadas casts his own kids and films in his own house in order to achieve a degree of semi-autobiographical realism. Yet when said film also features a home invasion by a radioactive devil, an orgy in a sauna and a man committing suicide in the most surreally violent manner imaginable, it’s hard to shake off the impression that Reygadas’ life is somewhat different from our own.

On the DVD’s accompanying interview – this is one of those films where you’ll need to turn to the extras afterwards – Reygadas explains that his intuitive sense of what to film stems from the idea that the subconscious is just as much a part of reality as the actual, tangible events in front of us. That doesn’t necessarily explain what we see in Post Tenebras Lux, but it does explain why it’s there. The film is a cat’s cradle of wild digressions and dream sequences, barely tethered detours and moments of striking splendour, all tied together by the director’s bracingly experimental style.

Hitherto an exponent of reaching out through Widescreen, here Reygadas boxes himself in, forcing us to adjust to this new way of looking at things.  Not only does Reygadas shoot in Academy ratio, but he vignettes the screen with a weird filter that resembles looking through glass, or as if he’s smeared the camera with Vaseline – a smeary, fractal effect that ensures anything entering the screen from the side does so bringing ghostly ripples. It is self-indulgent and borderline lunatic, but it sets the film apart from more mainstream fare at the same time that it insists that the craziest sequences are as plausible as the film’s quiet, meditative portrait of family life, or vice versa.

Yes, there is a plot, charting the troubled psyche of middle-aged Juan, a doting father who is also a bully and a misogynist, beating his dogs at the slightest provocation and forcing his wife into a demeaning sex life forged from his addiction to pornography (which sort-of explains the nightmarish trip to an orgy, as starkly matter-of-fact as Eyes Wide Shut was remote and stylised). Meanwhile, Juan imagines an alternative life where he is an upper class sophisticate, while his daughter becomes lost in the unforgiving Mexican wilds during the film’s attention-grabbing, Tarkovsky-esque opening sequence.

It is just about possible to piece the entire film together in this way, as Reygadas gradually punctures Juan’s sense of entitlement and skewed priorities by comparing the idyllic life he can’t quite see with the tribulations of impoverished, traumatised addicts like his friend Seven. Stripped of its formal innovations, the film is actually quite simple – and deliberately so. For all the Lynchian flourishes, Reygadas isn’t interested in being cryptic but in making the audience feel the connective tissue.

Why, then, does he include baffling non-seqiturs of a British public school rugby match? It’s a step too far, an art-house gimmick whose frustrating opacity negates the beguiling effect elsewhere. To his credit, Reygadas has an explanation for the rugby, too, claiming it’s there because, somewhere in the world, people really are playing rugby and he wanted to give a sense of life beyond the confines of the film’s dramatic arc in Mexico.  It is, however, quite possibly the worst explanation a director has ever given about anything.

Post Tenebras Lux is released on DVD on Monday 22nd July.

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