Post Tenebras Lux – Simon Ward

Still image from Post Tenebras Lux

Like Seven and Juan, I’m here in this rundown hut, to confess to my own guilty addiction. Like Juan’s internet porn problem, my addiction is rather more prosaic than Seven’s drug problem. Like Juan, I am fortunate to be born into an existence where I don’t have to worry about having enough to eat (instead I worry about eating too much), don’t have to concern myself about being beheaded or kidnapped on a daily basis (contrary to what most Londoners who never venture south of the river might think) and have come to terms with my colonial past as a half-Protestant from the Republic of Ireland. Like Juan, I’m a little embarrassed by the nature of my addiction. It’s clearly a privileged 1st World Fear. Like Juan, I’m not a big fan of Juan the man as a human being – so I’m going to stop comparing myself to him now and zero in on addiction. I don’t like Juan.

My addiction, I confess to you, is a compulsion to consume cinema. I want cinema to overwhelm me, to light up parts of me I didn’t know existed, to force me to confront the ugly and take me by the hand towards the sublime. Cinema feeds my compulsion without regard to life outside my head. It is art, entertainment, form, social comment, narrative and non-narrative pleasure. Cinema is at once stimulation, idea, comfort, seducer and consumer. Cinema is both transcendental experience and smutty joke. Cinema for me is as varied, mundane, banal and surprising as life. Hell, cinemas IS life. Seven might think it’s generally rather more comfortable than his life, and I’d be hard pushed to argue the point. I guess I’m lucky. I know I am. But I’m still addicted.

It’s taken over my life. My wife and I met through cinema. My friends are almost entirely connected in one way or another to cinema. My adult education is cinema. My daughters had better love cinema or watch out! My working life is completely dominated by cinema. Take cinema away from me and I wonder what could possibly ever fill the hole.

My father once accused my obsessive teen-love of cinema as being ‘mental masturbation’. He’s a psychiatrist so I would forgive you for thinking he knew of what he spoke. He went on to elaborate how my constant fevered consumption of film was merely getting off on second-hand emotion. That’ll be the thing called Art I thought to myself.  In retrospect I think he just wanted me to get out of the house more.

He was only half right. I get agitated when I see a powerful film and can’t rest until I have found a way to possess it once again and more permanently in my DVD collection (although I prefer the more professional sounding word ‘archive’ as it sounds less nerdy. Or does it? I’ve lost perspective). I can hear Marx breathing disapprovingly down my neck.

A film like Post Tenebras Lux makes me want to share my addiction. Juan comes to this room in the still above to somehow integrate with people from a completely different walk of life. Agendas may be different, but whatever the reasons, this surely is also what cinema does? It gives us all a place to meet, talk, experience and above all confess.

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Simon Ward is deputy director at the Independent Cinema Office.

“The film comes from direct experience of life.” Video interview with Carlos Reygadas

“Dreams are not part of the fantastic. They are part of reality.” In the fourth of a series of short video interviews with director Carlos Reygadas about Post Tenebras Lux, the director talks dreams, rugby and decapitation.

Post Tenebras Lux – Peter Taylor

Still image from Post Tenebras LuxIceberg by Frederic Edwin Church (1859)Still image from House of the Devil

Above the Clouds at Sunrise by Frederic Edwin Church (1849)

Don’t cry for me, I am so lucky

For a few moments towards the end of Post Tenebras Lux the camera lingers on some photographs, laying on a side-table.  Though I know nothing about golf, one is definitely of Seve Ballesteros.  The other features a humongous iceberg, in a cold, cold, deeply grey-scale sea.  One of cinema’s most valuable gifts is that for a few short moments together, we are left alone with our thoughts, and in this simple camera movement and mise-en-scène we are lent a clear-sighted moment of reflection in one of the film’s crucial scenes.

So I remembered this evening that Ballesteros had died a few years ago, and after reaching the film’s end-credits, was forced into a flurry of insatiable googling – well for at least thirty seconds! An image search revealed one stand-out image from thousands featuring Seve encased in the thickest of cheese – kissing trophies, or raising his fists in triumph. In this very peculiar image, Ballesteros is naked to the chest, laid flat and his head shaved, resting in some kind of a brace.  He was undergoing radiotherapy at the time and the photo is from a Daily Mail article entitled ‘Seve Ballesteros: Don’t cry for me, I am so lucky’.

Obliquely it is a headline which can resonate all the way through Carlos Reygadas’ film – including its title, translated as ‘After Darkness Light’ – and particularly with a quotation of Tolstoy imported to the film by Juan, played by Adolfo Jiménez Castro, the character at the centre of Post Tenebras Lux’s kaleidoscope.  Tolstoy describes Count Pierre Besukhov, who transforms from wealthy nobleman to pariah when Napoleon invades Moscow, ‘Pierre felt for the first time, that strange, yet pleasant feeling as he suddenly understood that wealth, power, life… everything that men fight for and defend so eagerly, are worth no more than the pleasure one feels when they abandon you’.

Returning to the images on the side-table, the iceberg is revealed in the end-credits to be a photograph of a painting from 19th Century American landscape artist Frederic Edwin Church, which may or may not be entitled ‘Iceberg’.  Carlos Reygadas has described his film as a work of Expressionism ‘where you try to express what you’re feeling… rather than depict what something looks like’.

But with this painting by Church, and the way in which cinematographer Alexis Zabé captures the sub-tropical green of Guerrero, the Mexican state Reygadas calls home, he also eludes strongly to Romanticism and its embrace of the irrational, the personal, the subjective and the visionary.

So maybe Post Tenebras Lux could be called a work of neo-romantic- expressionist-realism. Optical effects aside, there is certainly realism there, cast in an intriguing, semi-documentary in-between-ness.  The majority of the cast appear under their own names, and the shooting locations are from the four places Carlos Reygadas has lived – Mexico, Belgium, Spain and England.  Rut and Eleazar, the children in the film are his own children, the house their home, the rugby games we see taking place are set in – or at least simulate – Mount St. Mary’s College in Derbyshire, where Reygadas went to school.

The film is as abundant as the Mexican countryside. We can’t completely comprehend Post Tenebras Lux or sniff out every imagined lead, but we don’t need to.  We just need to trust ourselves a little. Then the film can become a poetry of not very day-to-day moments. It is a reminder of very Mexican divides, but also a film where almost everyone has a name – Jarro, Seven, R2D2, The Toad, The Glove. It’s a film where a child talks about ‘megapincels’ (sic).  It’s a film where the devil moves like the Pink Panther but is no less chilling for the fact. It’s a film about ghostly matters, where things come back, things change shape, but absolutely and resolutely refuse to disappear.  It’s a film where we learn of avocado trees, dogs, saunas named Hegel, the beauty of glass, machines and loud music.

Critics have been scathing in their reviews of Post Tenebras Lux, writing that it is fragmentary, impossible to make sense of, ‘pseudo-profound’, a ‘mess of half baked ideas’ and an ‘offensively self-indulgent cubist folly’.  In my own Seve Ballesteros inflected understanding of the film, there is nothing experimental about Post Tenebras Lux, nothing left to chance or nuance. It is an absolutely solid whole in an almost perfectly elliptical form – a humanely sophisticated cinematic tour de force.  But don’t believe me – Post Tenebras Lux is a film that you absolutely need to find out for yourself – go see it!

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The accompanying images are from a simple screen-grab cut and paste and feature an ICO supplied Diablo from Post Tenebras Lux and some images I came across following my second viewing of the film.  The two paintings are Iceberg and Above the clouds at sunrise from 19th Century American landscape artist Frederic Edwin Church whom Carlos Reygadas references in his film. The knife-wielding girl is from the Ti West directed 2009 horror film The House of the Devil.”

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Peter Taylor is a freelance film programmer, whose work includes the International Film Festival Rotterdam, WORM and the European Media Arts Festival (EMAF).


At a cinema near you: Post Tenebras Lux opening screens

post-tenebras-signature.jpg

Post Tenebras Lux opens at the following UK and Irish cinemas of taste and distinction from this Friday 22nd March.  Click on sites for showtimes and to buy tickets.

Aberdeen

The Belmont Picturehouse

Belfast

Queen’s Film Theatre

Bristol

Watershed

Cambridge

Arts Picturehouse

Dublin

Irish Film Institute

Edinburgh

Filmhouse

Glasgow

Glasgow Film Theatre

London

Barbican Centre

Ritzy Cinema

Institute of Contemporary Arts

Rio Cinema

Curzon Renoir

hmvcurzon

Odeon Covent Garden

Hackney Picturehouse

Newcastle upon Tyne

Tyneside Cinema

Nottingham

Broadway Cinema & Media Centre

Sheffield

Showroom

Future screening dates can be found here.  Support your local cinema!

“It became enjoyable.” Nathalia Acevedo discusses the filming of the bathhouse scene

Still image from Post Tenebras Lux

An important facet of Carlos Reygadas’ work is his frank depiction of sexuality onscreen.  In Post Tenebras Lux this is most evident in a scene where Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and his wife Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) visit an orgy in a Belgian bathhouse.  Here Acevedo discusses the process of making the bathhouse scene from her perspective.