Propelled by curiosity Ana and Isabel run all the way across the field towards the barely visible barn in search of Frankenstein. As the sky changes hue their already tiny figures dissolve, literally, into the landscape. Compared to these little girls the figure of the child in the opening sequence of Post Tenebras Lux seems as large as the surrounding elements.
The boy doesn’t move from the rock. He waits there until eventually the buffalo ambles toward him. His silence, and the shot’s stillness, tells us that Heremias the boy is already carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Like the adults he is already expelled into the world.
Out of habit I initially wrote, “the figure of the child in the opening sequence of Post Tenebras Lux seems as large as the elements surrounding her.” But taking into account the unusual scale of the figures in the foreground, and interrelated shape and hue of things that this particular still brings out, perhaps it’s not quite a little girl that we’re seeing after all. The skin and the colour of clothing of this child blend in with that of the sky, and the hair matches the coat of the dog to which the child seems inherently connected.
The narrative drive of The Spirit of the Beehive needed the anarchic presence of little girls gripped by curiosity, and Heremias Book 2 wouldn’t have worked without the boy as stoic everyman. In comparison, the burbling thing that moves in random directions as storm clouds and thunder gather force in the opening sequence of Post Tenebras Lux seems much closer in being to the large dogs and the enveloping light.
“For us grown-ups the physiognomy of children is as strange and as mysterious as that of animals and it is made more mysterious by the fact that it is not entirely alien. And to watch children who imagine themselves unobserved is like a glimpse of Paradise lost” (Béla Balázs).
Post Tenebras Lux needs to be watched many times. The second time I do so, this still will prepare me to enter the film differently, not to be fearful for the small child seemingly out of place in the company of big animals in the rumbling open field. Quite the contrary, the child is, here, one of the elements. The child is not yet self-divided, yet to be thrown into a world of mass ornamental lines. The forces that will take over and shape little bodies into neat long lines in Carlos Reygadas’s films are the church, school and state. And in the private domain some turn into lumpen shadows that silently witness the implosion of parents too long entrapped in the grey zone.
Image 1 from The Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973)
Image 2 from Heremias Book 2 (Lav Diaz, work in progress dated 2009)
Image 3 from Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas, 2012)
Quote from Béla Balázs, Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory, Visible Man and the Spirit of Film. Berghahn
Dr May Adadol Ingawanij is Senior Research Fellow at University of Westminster and was director of the 6th Bangkok Experimental Film Festival: Raiding the Archives.