Post Tenebras Lux (2012) — Image via independentcinemaoffice.org.uk

Post Tenebras Lux

Directed by Carlos Reygadas (2012)

Let’s get one thing straight. Post Tenebras Lux is a weird film. Weird and disturbing. Before its 115 minutes have expired, viewers will have witnessed heinous animal abuse, a trip through a French sex club in which the rooms are named after famous philosophers and artists, a bright red animated devil walking around a family’s home at night with his penis hanging out, and possibly the most atrocious sweatshirt that has ever appeared in a film. Like I said, weird and disturbing.

One does not, however, get the impression that Carlos Reygadas’s latest film is either of these things solely out of a desire to shock and provoke. After all, much of Post Tenebras Lux takes place in the world of dreams, where the weird and disturbing are relatively commonplace. In fact, throughout much of the film, it is impossible to tell what is supposed to be a dream and what is supposed to be reality.

Post Tenebras Lux (2012) — Image via independentcinemaoffice.org.ukA few central facts do emerge. Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) are a wealthy couple who live in a custom-built house in rural Mexico with their two young children, Rut and Eleazar (played by the director’s children, who have the same names). Most of the other men in the region have worked for Juan at some point, and he seems to enjoy playing the role of the genial patrón who permits his workers to address him by his first name. He is generally a bit of a boor, and he is sexually frustrated, admitting at one point that he is addicted to pornography. Natalia suffers through Juan’s behavior relatively quietly but still makes her disapproval clear, and their marriage is not in the greatest of shape.

Much of Post Tenebras Lux seems to be focused on the differences between children’s and adults’ ways of experiencing the world. The film begins in a muddy field at twilight, where Rut (with the camera at her eye level) delights in identifying cows, horses and other animals. Several scenes throughout the film are rendered from the children’s point of view, and in fact, when the credits roll, they receive top billing. There are also several scenes of a teenage rugby match, which may be a memory from Juan’s childhood, a premonition of Eleazar’s future, or a little bit of both.

Post Tenebras Lux (2012) — Image via independentcinemaoffice.org.ukThe central family drama has a parallel in the family life of a man nicknamed Seven (Willebaldo Torres), a poor laborer who lives in a shack and has worked for Juan in the past. Seven has his own history of sexual trauma and is estranged from his wife and children. He is never fully fleshed out as a character, and his family even less so, but he comes to play a key role in what passes for the film’s plot and serves as Juan’s double in several respects.

It would be easy to dismiss Post Tenebras Lux as the self-indulgent fantasy of an overeducated bourgeois — too easy, in fact. The film is not short on clichés about husbands and wives, wealth and poverty, modernity and whatever supposedly came before modernity, etc., but it is all presented in a way that feels different from what has been done with these themes before. The use of a distorting lens that creates a double-vision halo in most scenes, while occasionally distracting, contributes to a general feeling of disorientation that never really lets up. Viewers who are open to weird films (I mentioned that it was weird, right?) will find that Post Tenebras Lux, while sometimes frustrating, contains much that is intriguing and memorable.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.