"Post Tenebras Lux": A Deeply Emotional Cinematic Experience

in 12nd T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival

by Wiktoria Salwa

‘I don’t want to explain my film to the audience,’ said Carlos Reygadas, who had his retrospective at the 12th T—Mobile New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw and was constantly asked by confused viewers, what ‘his movies are about’. The 41—year—old director didn’t answer any of those questions; he stated, however, that he is open to every interpretation of his latest film, Post Tenebras Lux, which already won him the Best Director Award at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. Announced in early 2010 and produced in 2011, Post Tenebras Lux is his fourth film. Polish audiences are familiar with his previous work: Reygadas’ directorial debut Japon was part of the official selection during  the 2nd New Horizons Film Festival, while his third film Silent Light (Stellet Licht) received limited distribution in Polish cinemas.

Reygadas claims that he decided to become a filmmaker after watching one of Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpieces; in Post Tenebras Lux, one is able to trace that influence. Other notable inspirations for the Mexican helmer’s career are Robert Bresson, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luis Bunuel. The name of the latter director was uttered by the overwhelmed Cannes audience after the first screening of Post Tenebras Lux — the surreal appearance of the devil—like, fluorescent creature and bloody self—decapitation scene were more than enough to invoke the director of Un chien andalou. Oddly enough, Bunuel made 20 films in Mexico in the 1950s and 1960s.

Irrespective of the long list of influences, Reygadas’ films are unique and peculiar in their narrative and visual style. In Post Tenebras Lux he tells the story of a young family with two small children living in a beautiful wooden house, surrounded by lush green forest and grey mountains. The main character is the father of the family, a handsome man in his mid—30s, who can be very gentle with his kids one minute and batter his dog the next. Reygadas observes their everyday life, but Post Tenebras Lux is not a conventional family chronicle. The core of the story is not events, but the emotions, hopes and dreams of the protagonist — some of them are shared by the director himself, as he admitted in one of the interviews. The realistic tone and slow—paced narrative makes it very difficult to distinguish what is a ‘real—life event’ and what is the protagonist’s imagination. This film is an intimate diary of a man, who wants to have a happy, full life, to live close to nature, and who does so. At the same time, he anticipates the loss of his dreams and relishes the prospect. ‘Possessing things and objects gives you the same pleasure as losing them’ claims the director through the mouth one of the characters. That melancholia is the main tone of Post Tenebras Lux.

There is another layer of the film, encrypted in its visual style — Reygadas used double lenses to create a distorted image around the edges of the frames, which gives a mirror—like effect: when a person approaches the edge of the frame, they appear to have two silhouettes. This effect serves as a metaphor for the mental state of protagonist, who is unfocused, torn between his actual identity and a desired one, between real life and his hopes and fears. In this context the title, a Latin phrase (“Post tenebras lux” means “Light after darkness”) serves as a charm or a wish spoken by the protagonist as well as a director: the period of confusion must come to an end.

Melancholic to its core, elusive and very visceral Post Tenebras Lux is a very difficult and demanding film to watch, and not because it’s particularly complicated. To fully enjoy it and connect to it, the viewer needs to clear his or her mind and be open to the film. ‘You need to kneel before my movie’ says Reygadas without arrogance. Watching his  film is a very intuitive and deeply emotional experience rather than an intellectual process.  For that reason, Post Tenebras Lux might be a bit frustrating for a more cerebral audience. It is also the reason why this movie is a rare cinematic gem, a true masterpiece reminding us that film is more than moving pictures with sound.