Post Tenebras Lux is, if anything, an experience. I can’t say that I’ve really loved a Reygadas film outside of Silent Light, and even that pales in comparison to its predecessor, Ordet.
I know that Reygadas gets a lot of flack for his sexuality and nudity, and while Post Tenebras Lux is now Battle in Heaven that way, it has its moments. The narrative here is more obscure than his other films I’m familiar with (I haven’t seen Japon), but he gives some clues along the way, and plays with time in an interesting way.
PTL is shot in 4×3 and much of the film has a vignette-type filter around the edges that looks like ghosting or a double image:
It’s not just the haunting atmosphere and odd technical pursuits that make the film unique. There’s also a two-dimensional devil figure that enters the film early on:
I like Reygadas’ eye a lot. Here’s a gorgeous location for a makeshift AA meeting. The low ceiling and slight low angle coupled with the dappled light really make this feel lived-in. That character, Seven, plays an important role in the film:
You can see the ghosting in this image again. This shot takes place in a somewhat confounding (but nowhere near the most confusing) sequence, where we seem to have moved forward in time. Eleazar, whose name you can see in the subtitle, one of the protagonists’ (Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) and Juan (Adolfo Jiminez Castro)) children, is much younger for the majority of the film:
That we see Juan in ostensibly this same scene-
-tells us a bit about his survival after the linear, ambiguous narrative is complete. It’s a subtle clue as to “what happens,” but in a way that explains plot on no more than a general level.
PTL is certainly about children and adults, the evils in the world, and how both are effected (hence the devil – more on that below). Throughout we see much of Juan and Natalia’s temptations:
There’s almost certainly, as in all Reygadas films I’ve seen, something in here about the overwhelming power of nature. A memorable scene at the end shows a cacophonous tree falling down as Seven watches:
Towards the end of the film we get eerily pretty, violent shots like this one. I’d rather not explain it so as not to ruin anything. At the least, it’s ghostly and, when seen in connection with the shot above, is shocking and powerful:
The film is twice intercut with scenes from a rugby match. Are these Juan and Natalia’s kids playing? Is this simply a look at a carefree life? Is this a view of civilization far removed from that which we’ve seen with Juan, Natalia and Seven? It’s unclear, but it does, at the very least, further the sense of urgency and life for children versus that of stagnancy and addiction of adults.
Here’s my favorite sequence in the film. Reygadas starts on the beach, and after a wide shot, cuts into two teenage kids, likely Juan and Natalia’s children, now older:
It’s peaceful and calm. He cuts to the ocean and time passes:
The next cut is back to the sand, where the heavy filter returns, and we now see the boy and girl as much younger children:
It’s a tricky way to move through time, and few hints are given that these are the children, aside from the simple juxtaposition. I like this because of how time moves backward and forward at the same time. The beach gets darker (time moves forward) and the kids get younger (time moves backward). I also like how Reygadas seems to use this filter to indicate the past, and youth that might still be corruptible. Lastly, I really like how Reygadas is just insistent on his theme, and refuses to give the audience much to work with beyond just the idea that the kids are innocent (the beach seems to be at odds with the primal force of muddy villages and looming forests) and that adults aren’t.
Here’s one last scene from the film (apologies for the play bar on the first image). When that devil came into the house – shown in an earlier image – he stops first at a door and looks in:
A child is looking back at him. Is this Seven? It’s not Juan and Natalia’s children. The two make eye contact and the devil moves onward, entering the parents room. Maybe these aren’t even people from the narrative. Here’s the important part: it’s almost like an anti-Santa Claus moment. The kid sees, the parents don’t. The offending devil ignores the kid – so innocent that he’s in the know – and moves on (with a toolbox in hand) to “tinker” with the parents. So maybe that Santa Claus comparison doesn’t hold up at all. But regardless, this is basically Reygadas’ theme. The parents have the devil in them, the kids don’t.