Cannes Check: Carlos Reygadas's 'Post Tenebras Lux'

Posted by · 12:38 pm · May 13th, 2012

The director: Carlos Reygadas (Mexican, 40 years old)

The talent: As usual with writer-director Reygadas, non-professional actors are the order of the day here — performance doesn’t tend to be a driving factor in his filmmaking, and here, human figures appears more assimilated into the mix than ever before. More important to note is that cinematographer Alexis Zabe, who conjured such astonishing imagery in Reygadas’s previous film “Silent Light,” is back on board here — as is that film’s editor, Natalia Lopez. More so than most auteurs in Competition, however, Reygadas is overwhelmingly the dominant presence in his work.

The pitch: Reygadas’s fourth feature is being talked up as his most non-narrative effort yet — which, considering the fluid structures of his previous works, is saying something. The title is Latin for “light after darkness,” which suggests a certain continuity with “Silent Light” — certainly, to judge from the many luscious stills floating around online, we’re in similarly painterly, ethereal atmospheric territory to his last film.

There are, apparently, autobiographical elements in this one, with Reygadas having shot portions in every country he has, at one point or another, called home: Mexico, England, Spain and Belgium. The cryptic official synopsis claims the film centers on a young family in rural Mexico, “enjoying and suffering a world that understands life in a different way” — more straightforwardly (if not specifically), the director has described the film as being about “feelings, memories, dreams, things I”ve hoped for, fears, facts of my current life.” Between this lofty personal agenda and the dazzling imagery on display, has Reygadas made his own “Tree of Life?”

The pedigree: His career may be young, but Reygadas is already a Cannes regular — all four of his features have premiered on the Croisette, and “Post Tenebras Lux” is his third to play in Competition. “Japon,” his 2002 debut, played Critics’ Week and earned him a runner-up mention for the Camera d’Or prize for debut directors. “Battle in Heaven” marked his first Competition entry in 2005: it earned no prizes, but “Silent Light” shared the Jury Prize in a tight field in 2007, while the fawning reviews it garnered sealed his place on the arthouse A-list.

The buzz: Very strong indeed. Thierry Fremaux didn’t disguise his excitement about the film at the Competition press conference, while emphasising its highly personal and esoteric qualities; secondhand word from a colleague who has seen it concurs that it is “bonkers… but fantastic.” Reygadas’s first two films proved rather polarizing, but “Silent Light” cultivated a solid group of worshippers who are champing at the bit for this one. Given what we know, however, the new film’s crossover potential sounds limited.

The odds: Largely due its lack of name appeal, the bookies don’t rate this one’s chances much, giving it 33-1 odds for the Palme d’Or. I think they could wind up with egg on their faces: for my money (literally so, as I placed £10 on it a few weeks ago), “Post Tenebras Lux” is a formidable contender for top honors, with Reygadas ripe for the prize and the film’s technical and personal scope sounding decidedly Palme-friendly. The risk is that it could prove too remote for the jury — Nanni Moretti isn’t a dedicated formalist, and after recent wins for “Uncle Boonmee” and “The Tree of Life,” it may be the turn of more immediate storytelling to come out on top. Still, an award of some variety — Grand Prix? Best Director? — seems likely.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter. 

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