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Gazeta Festiwalowa "Na horyzoncie", nr 4
22 lipca 2012
Visions of Life

Ian Haydn Smith

Editor, International Film Guide

Few filmmakers have emerged from world cinema over the last decade with as unique a voice as Carlos Reygadas. From his visually arresting debut ‘Japon’ (2002) through to the acclaimed ‘Silent Light’ (2007) and his new feature ‘Post Tenebras Lux’, Reygadas defies easy categorisation. The retrospective at this year's festival offers audience an opportunity to explore this remarkable body of work.

After his debut short ‘Maxhumain’ (1999), Reygadas startled audiences with his story of one middle-aged man in the midst of an existential crisis. ‘Japon’ is an outstanding vision of a cruel world, at whose heart lies the tenderness of an unlikely relationship. The film's lyricism has since been a feature of all Reygadas' subsequent work, as has the director's ability to shock. Frank in his presentation of sex and violence (the film's scenes of animal cruelty attracted the ire of censors in many countries), Reygadas sees such moments as little more than a mirror on life and has questioned the controversy they have attracted, arguing „What you find in my films you see any ordinary day: a gas station, a hunter killing an animal, people making love. I'm not trying to impress anyone with those images; they make sense in the context of my films."

‘Japon's’ stunning closing sequence, a single tracking shot along a railway line, which recalls Jean-Luc Godard's ‘Weekend’ (1967) and is played out against Arvo Pärt's ‘Cantus In Memorian Benjamin Britten’, suggests the death of the world. A similar tone permeates Reygadas's second feature ‘Battle in Heaven’ (2005). The title may suggest a celestial place, but the film is firmly rooted in everyday Mexico City and spirituality is all but absent, replaced instead by carnal desire. At least, the characters' attempts to sate their sexual appear to be a replacement for spiritual replenishment. The central character, Marcos, may look for redemption at the end of the film, but like the protagonist in ‘Japon’, that possibility has long since passed.

For his third feature ‘Silent Light’, Reygadas spent time with a Mennonite community in Chihuahua, in rural Mexico. Like his previous work, he cast non-professionals, almost all from this one community. Opening with a now famous six-minute shot of the sun rising, the film explores a question that fascinated Reygadas: „Is it honest, truthful, brave or legitimate to stop loving someone who you have loved so much and who still loves you?” ‘Silent Light’ drew comparisons with Carl Theodore Dreyer's ‘Ordet’ (1955), particularly a pivotal late scene, but the director has been keen to point out that whereas the Danish filmmaker's religious allegory is about a miracle, his film is about love.

Reygadas' latest film, which picked up the Best Director award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is arguably his most challenging to date. Drawing on his own life, which saw him growing up in Mexico, the UK and around Europe, Reygadas has spoken of the influence of painting, particularly Expressionism, „where you try to express what you're feeling through the painting rather than depict what something looks like." Visually, the film is more comparable to impressionist paintings, whilst the narrative employs a cubist structure. The result is a challenge for viewers and distanced many critics who had admired his previous feature. But, like all his films, ‘Post Tenebras Lux’ is unmistakably the work of a filmmaker who is striving to find new ways to represent our world. 

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