The Mexican art house endeavor "Post Tenebras Lux" is a film that is likely to polarize viewers. While some will instantly proclaim it an avant garde masterpiece, others will be perplexed by its rather cryptic nature. Filled with stagnant shots, non-linear story telling, and even an odd demon or two, you will be clued in very early on whether this movie will appeal to your sensibilities. Evoking the strangeness of David Lynch and the dreaminess of Terrence Malick, I'm still not sure what I was supposed to get out of Carlos Reygadas' puzzler. While he certainly seems to be speaking to the darkness inherent in us all, I don't seem to be bright enough to take away some profound notion or meaning about the way he views the world. The Cannes Jury, however, had no such qualms awarding Reygadas with the Best Director prize at the 2012 ceremony. Combining surreal moments with moments that were almost too real in their mundane observances, the film twists all over itself. And though I might not have loved "Post Tenebras Lux," it was a challenge that I was happy to undertake. Individual shots can be quite spectacular, and certain sequences are disturbing and unforgettable.
With the literal translation of "Light After Darkness," the film is decidedly more dark than light. An upscale family moves to the countryside to begin a simpler existence. The local community is skeptical of the new residents, and the solitude can be taxing on a couple raising two young children. While we get to know many of the locals, the movie is primarily concerned with the ups and downs of Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) and their kids. The movie shoots back and forth through time and we see the children at various ages. Throughout, we see a family struggling to connect with both good times and bad. Both Juan and Natalia have doubts that test their relationship and resolve, but they aren't afraid to explore some of the seamier elements that drive their personalities and sexuality. Certain moments can be incredibly frank and in-your-face, others can have an incredible sweetness. For me, the movie was a mass of contradictions (just like life). A shocking act of violence, however, really puts things into perspective.
The style of filmmaking that Reygadas employs really did remind me of Malick. Many of the shots are incredibly stagnant, they just peer at a scene from one vantage point and let the action unravel (even when there's no action). This methodical pacing, the great stretches of quiet and inactivity, are juxtaposed with some more visceral elements. We spend much time in a child's dream, we take explicit excursions into sexual experimentation, we experience unexpected bursts of violence, and we even visualize aspects of that can be construed as supernatural (although they are merely metaphorical). And as Reygadas plays with the medium of film, you never know quite where he'll take you next. The film becomes pretty grounded by the end, but the last surreal sequence pulls you right back into the world of unreality. As I said, I didn't particularly love "Post Tenebras Lux," but I admired a lot of it. Ultimately, though, it is an experience that connected more with my brain than with my heart. KGHarris, 8/13.