Day 7 of the Miami International Film Festival included some very interesting meetings with a couple of smart filmmakers and discussions with some rather brilliant film watchers after a screening of one the festival’s more daring films: Post Tenebras Lux.
The afternoon began with a lovely lunch with none other than Whit Stillman, a man whose work in independent cinema in the 1990s heyday of my movie-going remains unforgettable. I plan to have an article about our conversation on this blog where he and I both reconsider Damsels in Distress together, and talk a lot about my somewhat negative review (‘Damsels in Distress:’ Stillman dumbs it down after almost a generation in hiding).
The man came across self-effacing and very open to criticism, despite feeling a bit heartbroken that the film did not play as long as he had hoped in theaters. He seems quite invigorated to be working again and shared some great ideas for follow-up films in confidence. So you will just have to wait and see, but I, for one, am looking forward to what this director has to offer.
He is at MIFF as part of the jury for the Knight Ibero-American Competition. Stillman said he is not allowed to comment on his job at MIFF as the jury continues to screen films in what may be the festival’s most important competition. But we still had a lot to talk about over lunch and coffee. Part of our conversation will be revealed in what will surely be one of the more interesting articles on this blog.
The only screening I could fit in yesterday was Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for “After the darkness, light,” a term lifted out of the Book of Job) at the intimate O Cinema, which is playing host to some of the more challenging films of the festival in its “Visions” category. The fourth film by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas demands a relaxed, open mind well aware of the boundaries of cinema and in search of something fresh. The cinephile with a distinguished taste looking for something new in the forms of narrative structure and framing will leave a film like this invigorated. Those looking for something traditional will only feel disappointed. I heard a lot of grumbles about the length of the film, as many never felt engaged by it. One person scrawled “This is the worst movie ever!!” on O Cinema’s chalkboard “Everybody’s a Critic” wall.
In my opinion: the film oozed a vibrant vital energy in search of an impactful delivery of a social message many will not be happy to hear. Reygadas, who also wrote the screenplay, juxtaposes vignettes of a small town in the lush forest landscape of Mexico, possibly Valle de Bravo, bookended by a rugby match in the UK. Consider the Jungian principal of synchronicity, and the narrative conceit should feel easier to accept, as both settings will illuminate the other in an incongruent but impactful manner. For the most part, the film follows an upper-class family that remains as humanly flawed as the rest of town’s denizens in the lower classes, yet social constructs result in an impenetrable division that comes to a head in a violent encounter as banal and distant as Reygadas dares conceive.
The film opens with an evocative if startling exterior scene at dusk. A little girl stomps through a muddy meadow as a pack of dogs run back and forth around her, harassing a herd of cows, some of which attempt to breed. The child, who must be about 3 years of age, is monosyllabic, uttering words like “doggie,” “Cow” and what will be soon be revealed as the names of her immediate family. She sloshes around, fascinated by the mushy ground, as the dogs zip around her and nip at the agitated cows. The sky looms dark with gray clouds pregnant with rain and rumbling electricity. The opening scene carries on long enough in what seems a single take to turn from dusk to pitch black and only the sound of animals and the child’s startlingly playful voice resonate from a darkness broken up by flashes of lightning.
The next scene is not even worth spoiling. Suffice it to say a presence of evil is revealed in the family’s home, which takes its time to establish itself, so it might echo and illuminate the following scenes that range from violence to animals, subjugation of men and the environment and degradation of love. This is not any easy film to experience. It shouldn’t be so it might have the impact of a slap in the face to what Reygadas may just consider an ignorant, complacent society.
Despite many grand landscapes, Reygadas subverts many of the images by the use of a lens that refracts the edges of the image leading to a doubling or sometimes quadrupling of the frame’s edge, creating an invisible if suffocating boarder around the people he has focused his camera on. Post Tenebras Lux is a darkly poetic wake-up call about people who have lost their humanity and could very well continue to lose it should they allow themselves to succumb to complacent entitlement.
It was the first transcendent film of the festival (you have to break down and recreate the rules of cinema for such experiences) and led to some great conversations with friends I found in the audience. Later that night, I met with the subject of the following two articles I wrote:
- Actor Brady Corbet praises 35mm ahead of rare screening of ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’ at MIFF
- Actor Brady Corbet on Francophiles, Old-School Filmmaking, and Au Hasard Balthazar
Brady Corbet was relaxing in an indoor cabana at Niki Beach for one of the festival’s after parties. We drew him away with chit-chat about film, including Post Tenebras Lux, which, despite a bias he admitted to having (he considers the director a friend), he still loved. Robert Bresson is a clear influence in the film, so his appreciation makes sense. Corbet will host a very special one-night only screening of the Bresson classic Au Hasard Balthazar tonight as part of MIFF (get tickets; this text is a hyperlink).
He also offered a rather banal reason for why his new film Simon Killer did not appear in the festival line up: the studio, IFC Films, may have grown tired of pushing the release date further back for festival appearances. However, a little bird told me it is scheduled to appear at a local art house in South Florida. Stay tuned to this blog for the official announcement and hopefully an interview with Corbet.
As much as I would like to see a 35mm print of Au Hasard Balthazar, tonight, I will cover the tribute to Spanish director Fernando Trueba for the “Miami New Times,” which will include a one-night only screening of his new film, the Artist and the Model. Expect pictures and a narrative of the night’s events on that publication’s “Cultist” blog on Monday (weekend means time for a break for some writers). If you want to go tonight for this tribute to one of the festival’s more consistent contributors, visit this link for tickets.
Meanwhile, Post Tenebras Lux will screen on more night, Sunday, for those looking to catch a bold, daring film at MIFF (click here for tickets).