(director/writer: Carlos Reygadas; cinematographer: Alexis Zabe; editor: Natalia López; cast: Adolfo Jiménez Castro (Juan), Nathalia Acevedo (Natalia), Willebaldo Torres (Seven), Rut Reygadas (Rut), Eleazar Reygadas (Eleazar); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jaime Romandia/Carlos Reygadas; Strand Releasing; 2012-Mexico/France/Germany/Netherlands-in Spanish, French & English, with English subtitles)

“An unusually bold and bizarre drama that offers a different way of looking at film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The talented fortysomething Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas(“Silent Light”/”Battle in Heaven”/”Japon”) fourth feature, whose title is translated from the Latin as “Light After Darkness,” is an unusually bold and bizarre drama that offers a plethora of ideas to consider (relating a number of things that were kicking around in the director’s head that he either experienced or wanted to) and a different way of looking at film, something which will not please all viewers who have preconceived concepts about film. The experimental film, too much like a home movie for its own good, aims to say something personal about the perception of reality and does so by introducing images that couldn’t previously have been done without the CGI breakthroughs. Using a German invented enlarged crafted lens the director in an early scene creates a cartoonish devil-like red figure carrying a toolbox (the same one his dad carried, and the devil is lifted from one of his dreams) and as the red figure roams the rural farmhouse of the protagonists it’s only the carefree playful children who see that the house is haunted. The pic is also about the ill-concepts of patriarchy and the violence that goes with that, and how the world is in a crisis as it’s shaped by modern-man’s warped attitudes and dreams. And, finally, it relates in a bemused fashion to our disappointments when the future we always picture in our heads never turns out and in our frustration we blame everything on the world.

The baffling arthouse provocative film, probably needing the director in-house to clarify his murky personal visions, tries to show what wasn’t possible to previously show and bring to the viewer what might be going on in the movie-maker’s head. It’s shot in red-orange to suggest blood, the color of a modern-day Mexico bleeding from its great crime wave. The former lawyer Reygadas is not driven to tell a story by the conventional narrative or by adhering to a script, as his film aesthetically blends together dreams, fantasy and reality to tell through feel and visuals the tale of a disparaging young professional upper-class Mexican family, moving from the city to the country and building a new home (using Reygadas’ own home in exurban Tepoztlán). The wife is the attractive Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) and the downbeaten architect is her hubby Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro), and their two youngsters Rut and Eleazar (the real children of the director) complete a bourgeois nuclear family who seemingly have everything to make them happy but are not. The uptight Juan is a dog abuser, talks dismissively to his workers, is a recovering alcoholic, is detached from others thinking he’s superior and is addicted to porn. At one point he takes his wife to France to an upscale swinger’s spa and in a steam bath, with rooms named after artists, philosophers and literary figures, he watches his wife have tender group sex in the Marcel Duchamp room.

The not in a chronological order told pic has many disconnected sequences that are fun to observe, such as the toddler Rut opening the film by running around in the wet field calling out to cows, horses and doggies; Natalia sitting by the piano and flatly singing in English Neil Young’s “It’s A Dream;” the surreal dream shot, that looks like a Magritte painting, of Juan standing in a field and beheading himself; the sequence of a loud talking neighbor hiring a worker to knock down a big tree just to spite his sister; and the film weirdly ending with a flashback to Juan’s childhood and a school rugby match where a member of the losing British team (perhaps a young Juan) tells his mates in a huddle that they might be better as individuals but we’ll win because we’re a team.

It ends on the salient note for the antagonistic Juan, of getting shot after surprising his idler weed smoking workers in the process of robbing his home. That leads our hero to face the light after the darkness and thereby get another chance to make things right in his next life (sort of in the ballpark of a Tarkovsky spiritual belief).

Though I found it refreshingly pleasing to see such an unpredictable non-commercial artistic film, I still was put off by its emptiness, the limited performances by its non-actor supporting cast and its so many disconnects in trying to tie so many episodic things together with elusive symbols that I felt that there was something wrong about the film just as strongly as I felt there was something right about it.

It wonthe Best Director prize at The Cannes Film Festival, even though the film was heavily booed.