By Tim Parr

post-tenebras-lux- imageCarlos Reygadas’ polarizing 2012 Mexican film, Post Tenebras Lux (Light after Darkness) sits on the border between pretentious art house cinema and semi-autobiographical story telling. The film also owes a debt to Latin America’s long literary tradition of magical realism, which is articulated (much to the dismay of Alex Zabé, the film’s cinematographer) via Reygadas’ decision to shoot all exterior shots with a distorted lens effect. Consequentially, nature comes to dominate the film, resulting in both a surreal and impressionistic presence.

The film revolves loosely around Juan (Adolfo Jimenez), a wealthy elitist and family man, who finds himself locked in a materialistic conflict. His lavish home, his many consumer goods, and his beautiful picture-perfect family, have kept Juan from appreciating and paying attention to the simpler pleasures of life. He is also guilty of degrading the members of lower class Mexican rural society. Juan’s happiness is a shattered mask, and it is not until he finds himself upon his deathbed that he realizes that he has been but an empty shell, a passive human being walking through life as if it were a dream.

Of course, the fact of Juan’s death is up for debate (as is much of the film). Does Juan die? Was he ever truly alive? Or does he ultimately transcend death and enter into a type of heaven where he achieves a type of spiritual renewal? (The scene he shares with his grown children on the beach immediately comes to mind.) In effect, describing the plot of this film is, to put it mildly, pointless. Even this interpretation is largely subjective. Post Tenebras Lux is an impressionistic dream, fragmented by seemingly irrelevant moments (how an English school boy Rugby team relates to Juan’s personal dilemma in Mexico is but one example). Reygadas’ film consciously refuses to provide any type of resolution, and to some audience members (and one disgruntled Cannes’ audience), this is problematic.

Films do not need to wrap everything coherently into a nice little bundle; after all, life does not quite work that way. Post Tenebras Lux, with or without context ( the rugby sequence represents Reygadas’ own experience playing rugby in England, and the film is more or less his autobiography) is the type of cinematic experience that relies heavily on the audience’s ability to interact and engage critically with the screen, assigning individual meaning to what they have just seen. Not everyone enjoys this kind of experience. It is atypical of most films. However, audiences who are willing to suspend their beliefs in realistic story-telling and allow themselves to be immersed in Reygadas’ dreamlike, impressionistic film, will leave the cinema significantly stimulated.