I Have Made My Bed in the Darkness
Critically divisive, publically ignored, Carlos “El Maestro” Reygadas is compared to Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul. At least as good a fit is Carl Theodor Dreyer, in moral-religious themes and symmetrical chiaroscuro camerawork. Like the Mexican’s three other fiction features, Post Tenebras Lux concludes with a sort of redemption or regeneration but opens a wealth of interpretations: “closer to music, real cinema doesn’t represent anything [but] is just something that will convey feeling, doesn’t mean anything.”
This Cannes Best Director prize-winner creates, in fact, so many possibilities that it may be likened to a rough draft awaiting editing.
This does not mean that the hallucinatory two hours cannot be intriguing in stretches but, rather, that it may try the patience of most viewers. Indeed, the fact that critics cannot agree even on the aspect ratio and the lens or filter or post-production technique used to double and blur periphery on outdoors scenes, and why, is a forewarning.
A simple tale is layered into complexity. Wealthy criollo-Caucasian Juan and Natalia (Adolfo Jiménez Castro, Natalia Acevedo) have left urban life for a well-appointed faux-rustic existence in the hills. Local mestizos like Jarrito and recovering addict “Siete”/Seven (Willebaldo Torres) do their house installation and maintenance, and Chelita is maid, nanny and sometimes cook.
There are invitations to read the film autobiographically. The dedication to editor Natalia López, the director-screenwriter-coproducer’s wife, and biblically named toddler Rut (Ruth) and a year or so older Eleazar are played at their youngest by the couple’s real children, Rut and Eleazar Reygadas. The house in the film is theirs as well or, briefly, his parents’, and the gratuitous English-language rugby teams reflect his own schooling and later connection with the country’s national team.
Nature looms from the opening, including farm and domestic animals, and, though at once beautiful and threatening, appears overdone in ever-present thunder and lightning. Perhaps the latter is associated with the devil, a featureless red being with bovine horns, an arrow tail, distinct male genitalia and a tool- or boombox who enters by the front door to be seen by the male child but whose interest lies in the adult couple.
The kids do survive, if future scenes are “real,” as for instance a Christmas family reunion or maybe the rugby match, and what is or is not a late deathbed scene posits an acceptance of the pure existence and innocence of childhood ended by growing into adulthood.
It is the parents, those grown-ups, who have issues. There are no views of the life left behind -- or fled -- but they bicker, she has a vaginal infection, while sex-obsessed he must seek arousal by watching online pornography and needs counseling in anger management, manifest when he pummels to death a puppy and, not for the first time, admits “I hurt those I love most.” In the future, or the past, he and she try a French swingers-swappers’ sex club, a hellish sauna whose bored members appreciate naked Natalia while leaving him standing aside draped in a towel.
Trees fall by themselves, are power-sawed down, maybe illegally, or axed to annoy female relatives. But nature is after all impersonal, so good and evil exist in, are perceptions or projections of, men, the evil that men do. The film title, William Styron out of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, derives from the Book of Job, after darkness comes light, each acquiring fuller meaning through the existence of its opposite.
Though Natalia quavers Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream,” Post Tenebras Lux is, as with much of this director’s work, akin to that other visual art of painting. Equally if not more Tzara-Duchamp Dadaism than magic realism Surrealism, it will as well amuse or intrigue adherents but turn off the many. “One viewer could love the film,” says its creator, “another may hate if for a very good reason. I truly appreciate the directors who don’t lead me by the hand.”
(Released by Strand Releasing; not rated by MPAA.)