There are several ways to present important episodes of history in film. Very few directors do it in a direct way, presenting the facts and characters as they are or were, while others do it as a so-called "historic-novel," meaning that fictional characters are created with a real-life story as background. The second type is the most used in Hollywood, as they have to create a love story in order that they can present a real life event as the major story. The brilliant "Post Mortem" perhaps belongs to this second group, as it mixes a love story, described by some as funny or maybe dark humor, with one of the most dramatic and sad events in South American history. The result is electrifying and unforgettable.
The main character of the story is Mario (Alfredo Castro), a lonely, sad fellow who works as a transcriber at the forensic institute in Santiago, Chile, where autopsies are performed. He is truly a reserved and lonely man with no apparent opinions or ambitions. While most of his coworkers, including his boss, are in favor of the Salvador Allende's - who was the president of Chile at the time - regime, he seems to really don't care. However, for some reason he is infatuated by Nancy Puelma (Antonia Zegers), who happens to be his neighbor, and who also works as a dancer at a second rate theater. Her best days are over, and she is fired from her job. Alfredo tries to help her, even convincing her ex-boss to give her a second chance, with him agreeing to give his car away for the favor. At that time, Chile is in turmoil because the right-wing, US- sponsored Chilean military forces are trying to overthrow the Allende government. As a result of the eventual coup d'état, hundreds of bodies killed by the military begin arriving for "autopsies." At the same time, Mario agrees to hide Nancy because her family was involved with Allende's politics. He is able to maintain his cool during all these tragic events, while his coworkers are completely stressed because the military took over the forensic offices. Ultimately, Mario will face a heart-breaking challenge that will make him show what he is capable of doing for love.
As I described earlier, the love story may appear to be funny or weird, but it gives meaning to the extremely sad period in which the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende Gossens was cruelly overthrown by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973 (yes, there was another September 11). It shows, through the eyes of the forensic personnel, painful and never-to-be forgotten days, when thousands of people were murdered by the military. The most powerful scene - in fact, one of the most powerful ever in the history of film - is when Mario and his team had to perform Allende's autopsy. Director Pablo Larraín and cinematographer Sergio Armstrong magnificently captured the moment with such potency that you will never ever forget this movie -- I promise. This is one special film. (Chile/Germany/Mexico, 2010, color, 98 min).
Reviewed on October 1, 2012 by Eric Gonzales for Kino Lorber.