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