“It’s only a dream, just a memory without anywhere to stay,” Neil Young sings in his 2005 song “It’s A Dream.” The song, which appears in Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, is analogous to the sprawling, lyrical film it appears in. The film passes as a fever dream, spurred on not by narrative causality but by the dreams and memories of its creator, ones that drift through one another, ephemeral and everlasting.
At its center are a well-to-do Mexican family, a father and mother, and their two infant children. The moments captured vary from the mundane, a typical morning wake up routine, to the bizarre, what appears to be a singular visit to an orgy, to the indelible, an ill-fated return home that results in tragedy. Yet each scene pulsates with equal vibrancy, immediacy, urgency. Like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, these images can feel as though they’re being depicted for the first time, ever. Dinner at home spirals into a fight between the parents. It unfolds so naturally, so quickly becomes heated and bitter, you’re thrown between the two of them and it’s as if you know their entire history; you were there the day they met, at their wedding, what gave them these toxic feelings, what brought them to this exact moment.
The film was booed and dismissed by some at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, labeled pretentious folly. But despite the at times tenuous relationship between strands of the story, the film coheres because the vision behind it is pure and true—the director is saying something, even if it is difficult to decipher what it is. Maybe, it can’t be put into words.
With the husband injured and bedridden, he asks his wife to sing him and the kids a song, the Neil Young one he’d asked for countless times before. Just out of sight around the corner, the wife sits down at the family piano and begins to play. The song is simple, her voice strained and off-key. Every so often the husband sings along, and though the music they are making together is not beautiful, it’s what they have, and heard through their ears, it sounds like the most wonderful sound in the world—home.