Harnessing the elegance of his muse, Carlos Reygadas opens Post Tenebras Lux in the organic space beneath the dusky sky, girded by viridescent mountains awash in a balmy, pink glow. Approximating the spontaneous beauty of Silent Light’s daybreak, Reygadas tempers the harmony of the landscape through in-camera manipulation, warping the corners of his images, lending each picture a narcotic, rippled haziness. His eye is content to capture beauty free of diegetic restraint, permitting the strand of images to possess an incongruity that obscures any meaning and mires the narrative in the cerebral. Multiple viewings and inexhaustible patience will lay his metaphors bare, but the propensity for cruelty overshadows the singularity of Reygadas’ vision.
An inkling of plot is broached by the entrance of a luminous demon, jarring in its dissonance to the serenity of the commencement and glowing red like a flaming ember. The horned beast creeps into a cottage, staining the kitchen in a blush hue as it precariously swings its toolkit and protruding genitalia. As it peers down at the characters in slumber, the action abruptly cuts to a family stirring from sleep, the patriarch warmly tossing his infant son above his head. Despite initial implications of altruism, parallels are to be drawn between Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro), the father, and the scarlet devil, illustrated by his temperament around his canine companions, one of which he recklessly beats in the abdomen with his balled-up fist. Though this sequence succeeds in painting its character as unsympathetic and occurs primarily off-screen, the yelps of the puppy as it endures the attack are excruciating and realistic, distracting enough in their credibility to stir up questions of morality in the minds of the viewing audience.
This callousness extends beyond a penchant for animal abuse, spilling over into Juan’s relationship with his subjugated spouse, Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo). Sojourning to a French sex spa at Juan’s insistence, the reluctant wife allows herself to be disrobed and coveted by a group of revellers, engaging in sex with another man as Juan objectifies her naked form. Reygadas drains the scene of eroticism, despite its frankness, even providing a respite for the frightened Natalia in the form of a matriarchal figure, one who rubs her temples and whispers in placid tones. The magnanimity of this good samaritan is antithetical to Juan’s selfishness, his corrupt nature poisoning connections between family and environment.
Our protagonist confronts the distance he’s struck between himself and the natural order as he lies on his deathbed, reflecting on the simplicity of childhood and the loss of innocence that accompanies adulthood. The most affecting passage of the film accompanies this realization, focusing on Natalia as she performs Neil Young’s “It’s A Dream” on piano, the pair singing in unison, their monotone vocalizations demonstrating the grace in human imperfection. As a single tear trickles down Natalia’s face, the camera zooms in on a portrait of an iceberg adrift in an waveless sea, personifying the isolation at the core of human existence, only surmountable through compassion and temperance.
Post Tenebras Lux concludes with kinetic shots of a youth rugby match, the camera standing beneath a club as it converges in huddle, a spirited player shouting, “They’ve got individuals, we’ve got a team.” His words are the metaphorical center of Reygadas’ work, stressing a unity and balance that evade his principal characters, but are embodied within the sanctity of children, animals and the landscape. This purity is evoked through photographic vignettes that speak without words, eliciting a toddler’s wonder as she scampers alongside a herd of cows and defining love through a grandmother’s gentle tap on her grandson’s forearm. It’s a poetic work constructed of contrasts, equal parts enticing and revolting, marred only by its architect’s inability to discern between sadism and realism.
Post Tenebras Lux (Strand Releasing, 2012)
Written and Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Photographed by Alexis Zabe