Booed vociferously during its world premiere at Cannes last year, Post Tenebras Lux, the new feature film from Carlos Reygadas (Battle in Heaven, Silent Light), nevertheless went on to win the Best Director Award.
We hung out with the Mexican filmmaker on a snowy February day in central London to discuss his latest, most beguiling film yet and why some critics are nothing short of hooligans.
GFW: Post Tenebras Lux draws on your life in rural Mexico, but where is the dividing line between yourself and the character, Juan?
Reygadas: I would say they’re not separate, possibly. The source of everything I make is my life but that doesn’t necessarily mean everything I live, but it is definitely all that I experience, see, think, dream about or imagine. That is the source of all I do. With Post Tenebras Lux, a lot of what I lived is in there. I wanted to share that with other people rather than make a story – I wanted to share a direct feeling.
You’ve got a reputation for unflinching depictions of sex and violence – even accusations of cruelty to animals. Do you think the reaction is hypocritical or because cinema is so unreal that when we see something ‘real’, it disturbs us?
I totally agree with what you’re saying, but I would go further. The way we look at the world, we have been programmed to sanitise it, so we rarely see things the way they appear. We see them through a sanitised looking glass.
Juan punching the dog disturbed me. If we go back to the semi-autobiographical angle of Post Tenebras Lux, is that something you’ve done?
Hitting a dog? I’ve done it, never in such a vicious way, or hysterical, but you know, people are very hypocritical and they get upset at a simulation of a dog being hit but people don’t care about simulated violence where a person gets killed. In real life, I’m not a violent person at all but I have animals. I love dogs and horses. My dogs live in a pack – I have ten dogs – and of course sometimes I have hit my dogs. It’s important. They’re not human. If I was born again I would be happy to be born a dog in one of my packs than a dog in England that looks absurd wearing a sweater or something.
I’ve seen dogs with painted nails.
It’s more than bizarre – it’s the result of a sickness.
Did you shoot Post Tenebras Lux in your home village?
It’s my house and my children and all the people I know.
That’s pretty brave.
Yes. As I told you, I like to talk about what I know and what is dear to me and I’m ready to open the doors. At the same time, people – the bourgeoisie – would say ‘That’s too intimate, how can you do that?’ I’m not afraid. I’m happy to share it with all of you.
There’s a great anxiety felt between the family and the villagers in Post Tenebras Lux. Is that something you’ve felt?
I’m friendlier than Juan. It’s not a film about me. The material – I’d even refer to my children on this external level – is not the most personal film I’ve made because I don’t identify with the world’s vision of these characters, or their conflict. Silent Light is much more personal to me even though it’s about a religion I don’t know or a place that is not my home. Post Tenebras Lux is not about tension among classes or urban versus people from the countryside, or anything like that – that is such a European vision of life. In Europe, you have only one vision of the world. In Mexico you have two visions: the Western vision and the non-Western vision. It’s not related to class but vision. They do collide but why do they collide? Not because two different visions have to, but because one is the Western vision that, by definition, implies domination.
How do you write a film as fragmentary and thematically rich as this – is there a screenplay written?
I produce a technical screenplay. I never write a screenplay in a literary form, I only write about shot after shot, probably in a couple of days. After a long time of accumulating my ideas I sit down and it’s as if I’m describing a film that’s already been made. It’s like how a composer works in that they’re listening to what needs to be played. I work in a very similar way then I have to go out and materialise the film.
You employ a lens for outdoor scenes that causes the images to have a ripple effect around the edges of the frame. It’s difficult to articulate fully the impact it had on me, personally.
That’s the best thing, that you can’t articulate it.
I would say it’s a beautiful way of photographing or imagining the past.
That’s it – it’s beautiful. If it’s beautiful then it’s opened the door.
What are the influences on the film? I’m thinking in terms of structure. I don’t know if it’s just my reading but it felt like looking through a photo album, though not necessarily in chronological order. Also, as a film reference, Chris Marker’s La Jetée comes to mind.
I’ve never thought about La Jetée. I saw it maybe fifteen years ago and I didn’t like it. I found it too intellectual. I couldn’t care less about it and it’s not beautiful to look at.
I just mean the way it jumps around in time.
Not really because it wouldn’t be so organic and more an intellectual demonstration of an idea. For me, it’s more like you’d be on a trip on peyote or something.
There’s no need to find a simile – it is life.
So movies don’t influence you?
My source for material is life and not films.
Are you an avid film viewer?
I have watched a lot of them in my life, especially when younger, but now, not so many.
Let’s talk about the reception Post Tenebras Lux received at Cannes. What do you think about critics and their reactions to your work? You’ve won awards, too.
I know. In a way it’s flattering because if we look at films that are worthwhile they were not usually appreciated in their time. I just have to say, from another point of view, that it is a pity and unprofessional for so many critics, not all, but they behave – not like individual thinkers – but like a herd of hyenas or football hooligans.
That’s a good comparison.
They believe they’re at a football match and behave exactly. They’re hooligans and finding their force through menace. Mean bastards.
There was booing during the screening of your film, right? It seems both rude and over the top.
They take advantage of the fact I cannot answer back [during a screening]. They’re hooligans. To all those who behave like hooligans, all I can say is – f*** you. That’s the best thing I can say.
A great response!
If they’d have a little bit of courage, I would have some respect for them. Most of them were French hooligans this time, but some English. Just to clarify, I don’t mean they have to like the film – it’s that they get together and behave like hooligans.
'Post Tenebras Lux' is released in UK cinemas on March 22, and May 1 in Canada.