Carlos Reygadas’ ‘Post Tenebras Lux’: decapitations, bad sex and mysterious demons
Carlos Reygadas, stubbornly avant garde Mexican director, discusses his challenging new film
Skype is not always the greatest medium for conducting an interview. All those squillions of pixels can get in the way of intimacy. This evening, however, the technology seems perfectly appropriate.
As Carlos Reygadas, Mexican director of Post Tenebras Lux , blinks onto my screen, I suddenly realise that he is sitting within the set of that already notoriously puzzling film. Reygadas conceived the picture while building his house in the hills north of Mexico City. The finished work, featuring glimpses of his own children, was largely shot in the vicinity
“It was like writing a book,” he says in his immaculate English. “You write a book in your own house. My daughter, who was 18 months’ old, would complain. My wife would insist that it was time to eat. But it was a pleasure overall.” He gestures towards a window opening onto luminous Central American verdancy.
Reygadas had, long before the appearance of Post Tenebras Lux , already established a reputation for creative peculiarity.
A former lawyer, he first confused arthouse audiences with his creepy, rural drama Japón (not set in Japan) in 2002.
Three years later Battle in Heaven – noisy, surreal, sexually explicit – was even more confusing and confrontational. After embracing conventional narrative with the beautiful Silent Light in 2007, he now seems to have lurched back into total insanity. The new film played to gaping jaws at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“Reactions to the film are very evenly distributed – across class, religion, race. Some like it. Some don’t,” he says. “The only place there was a universal negative reaction was among journalists at Cannes. I think they are like hooligans. But, if you are a Manchester United hooligan, you maybe wear a T-shirt. They are hooligans in disguise.”
He can’t complain too much. The film did pick up the best director prize at that festival. It is true, however, that Post Tenebras Lux alienated many viewers. The film features some of the most stunning scenes in recent cinema: an opening sequence showing one of the Reygadas children adrift in a field; a demon wandering spookily through the house. But much of it follows the puzzlingly banal adventures of a nasty man who, about Carlos’s age, appears to live in Carlos’s home with Carlos’s children.
“Some people really feel the film,” he says. “They really connect. You can project your own personality onto it.”
You’d expect him to say that. What’s more surprising is that, for all the film’s meandering eccentricities, Reygadas claims to have a precise understanding of what goes where and why. You thought that the scene (no, really) featuring the English schoolboys playing rugby meant nothing? It does, in fact, indicate that among all the world’s catastrophes, “life is still going on elsewhere”. (It also nods to Reygadas’s own schooling in Derbyshire.)