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Division Division: ‘Post Tenebras Lux’

This week's most divisive film.

When there’s no critical consensus on a movie, the film gets sent to Criticwire’s Division Division where we measure the arguments on both sides.

Post Tenebras Lux” was booed when it premiered at Cannes last year. It went on to earn Carlos Reygadas the “Best Director” award. The unofficial awards of the Criticwire Network look somewhat similar. Take a look at the Grade Snapshot, where 5 D’s and 10 C’s overwhelm a respectable 9 A’s. It’s a bizarre piece of cinema, to be sure, and anyone who has seen it could probably guess without much trouble that it’s a divisive one.

PRO: More than just beautiful, it’s inventive.

“Comparisons to Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ are apt, but with ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ Reygadas continues his own unique quest for a new cinematic language. He’s not always successful, but when he is you’ll experience moments of true cinematic beauty.”John Oursler, Under The Radar

CON: Well, the exteriors are, but what about the interiors?

“It’s just that between each of these are a number of (dare I have the guts to say it?) dull interiors of uninteresting characters just emoting at each other.”Jordan Hoffman, Badass Digest

PRO: Taken as a sort of intercranial character study, the haphazard form makes sense.

“As perceived realities, memories and dreams collide in ‘Post Tenebras Lux,’ the free-flowing stream of seemingly unrelated scenes begin to congeal into what might just be Juan’s final act of penance.”Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit

CON: …but what does it all mean, anyway?

“Thematically, the psychological portrait of a family and its place within the sublime remains mysterious and ambiguous, and the narrative’s efforts to reconcile two different worlds (including the often punitive, unforgiving natural milieu) proves to be a nearly impossible task.”Emanuel Levy, emanuellevy.com

PRO: Who says that a lack of clear synthesis is a bad thing?

“Here is a film about the drama that exists between the boundless potential of our minds and the savage demands of our bodies, a tension that Reygadas is demonstrably incapable to solve, but urgently intent to soothe.”David Ehrlich, Film.com

CON: Unfortunately, that drama is too personal to pick up on.

“The film is never less than fascinating, but it appears to be so intensely personal as to be all but indecipherable to viewers not personally acquainted with the filmmaker, or at least in possession of the press kit.”Mike D’Angelo, A.V. Club

PRO: You can call it a lot of things, but not predictable.

“The effect can be frustrating at times, but also surprising and beguiling. It isn’t often that a glowing red devil turns up in a film so awed by the natural world, and moments like a tender, heart-catching performance of Neil Young’s ‘It’s a Dream’ save the central domestic crisis from wallowing in misery.”Scott Tobias, NPR

CON: You can call it a lot of things, like, for example, misguided.

“This summarizing statement…It’s an elitist sentiment that’s unlike a filmmaker so typically sensitive to the prickly nuances of class struggle. Worse, it’s an observation that feels flip and too on the nose from a film that’s at its most awe-inspiring and humane when it’s also at its most abstract.”Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine

On a personal note, I saw “Post Tenebras Lux” this weekend. It was one of the most baffling experiences I can recall having in a movie theater. I was rarely bored; on the contrary, there are a few scenes I’m still having trouble shaking off. But I also felt like I gained nothing from it beyond the visceral thrill. I detected that there was a lot happening involving family, class, and good and evil, but I couldn’t synthesize. I hope to see it again soon, and if you aren’t compelled enough to go out of your way and buy a pricey movie ticket, at least keep it in mind and check it out on Netflix or VOD later.

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