Han – a Korean term, for which there is no literal English translation – is an expression of suffering, oppression and discontent; it is a state of deep and lasting sadness, for which there seems to be no cure, and yet still in Han there is hope, not so much a light at the end of the tunnel, for the light is much farther away than that, but somewhere, conceivably, there is hope.
Post Tenebras Lux (After Darkness Light) is a film pervasive with discontent. Reygadas is a director who respects his audience far too much to have characters explicitly vocalise his critiques, and yet within the often oblique scenes of his latest film one gets a sense of the direction to which he points his frustration and malaise – social, political and economic struggles; gender and class inequalities; Mexico’s fractured national identity (or lack thereof) – all of these permeate Reygadas’ cinematic lament. And yet, amidst the darkness and violence and decadence and betrayal of the film’s narrative, amidst the discontent that manifests itself in startlingly violent imagery, still, in the closing frames, in the guise of an adolescent rugby match, Reygadas offers a rallying cry towards the direction of a collective and inclusive hope: “Let’s not let them get the better of us… They’ve got individuals, we’ve got a team – so come on let’s go.”
When Reygadas turns his camera on the working-class non-professional actors he has cast as the labourers in Post Tenebras Lux, one sees the human embodiment of Han. It is not a state of heroic or noble oppression, for there is shame in being poor and downtrodden and oppressed, it is a state of being – of still existing. The hope is Sisyphean, it comes from enduring oppression and not yet yielding to defeat.
James King is film and cinema co-ordinator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London.