TIFF 2012 Day 8: Post Tenebras Lux & When Night Falls

By @cj_prin
TIFF 2012 Day 8: Post Tenebras Lux & When Night Falls

For day 8 I delved right into TIFF’s Wavelengths programme which has been expanded this year. The programme used to cover avant-garde film only but now feature films that straddle the line between conventional and experimental are included as well.

My first film, Post Tenebras Lux, might be familiar to some as one of my most anticipated titles at Cannes from earlier this year. I still approached Carlos Reygadas‘ newest film with some hesitation since the guy is anything but predictable, and sure enough Lux is one strange film. There’s a story (involving a family living in Mexico’s countryside and a contractor working at the family’s home) but there’s no narrative whatsoever. At the drop of a hat Reygadas will suddenly flash forward to a family reunion, go back in time to a couple’s vacation at a disgusting bath house, or just focus on different characters entirely. Characters who appear in flash forwards will die in the present story, and plenty of fantastical elements come into play. Reygadas has explained exactly how personal Lux is for him; the house they shot as was his own, the children in the film are his own and a lot of scenes are directly lifted from personal experiences. It would be best to take in the film as a mood piece, but Reygadas rarely hits the emotional highs he’s shooting for. Running nearly 2 hours long, Post Tenebras Lux eventually feels like Reygadas is just farting around. Alexis Zabe’s cinematography is drop dead gorgeous (he’s definitely one of the best cinematographers working today), but as a whole Lux rarely impresses. I still can’t deny that parts of the film resonated with me, and down the road I might come to appreciate it more, but right now I feel mostly indifferent to what I saw.

RATING: 6/10 but a question mark would be more appropriate

Post Tenebras Lux movie review
Post Tenebras Lux

Next up was When Night Falls, a Chinese film that’s well-known for the story surrounding it. In a lengthy opening using narration and various images from the true events that inspired the film, Wang Jingmei (Nai An) explains what happened to her son Yang Jia. Years ago Jia was taken in by police after they suspected he stole a bicycle, was brutally beaten after not co-operating and endured constant harassment when he tried to report the officers. According to the Chinese authorities, Jia had enough and murdered six officers in a brutal attack on his town’s police station. It may sound like an open and shut case, but the government acted in a way that cast doubt on what really happened. CCTV footage of the attack vanished, and Wang Jingmei was illegally detained in a mental hospital for 143 days so she couldn’t have a presence at her son’s trial. 

When Night Falls picks up immediately after Jingmei is released from her imprisonment. With only days left before her son is executed, she frantically tries to submit evidence in her son’s favour to try and hold off his death. Of course Wang Jingmei’s battle is a losing one before she even decided to fight, and we see how the deck has been stacked against her as she faces more and more obstacles. Subject matter aside, When Night Falls is a tough film to watch. Director Ying Liang sticks to long, well-composed shots that go on for several minutes at a time. While other directors have worked well with a minimalist style, When Night Falls feels like a slog to get through at times despite its 70 minute length. At the same time I can’t deny that the film’s existence is essential with how it brings this tragic story into the spotlight. With news of the Chinese authorities threatening to arrest Liang if he steps foot in China again while trying to buy the film off of him in order to bury it, When Night Falls has probably gotten more coverage than it would have if it was left alone. I just wish that it could have been as interesting to watch as the story surrounding it.

RATING: 6.5/10

When Night Falls movie review
When Night Falls

NEXT UP: I’ll make my way back to TIFF on the final day to check out Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 5 hour miniseries Penance. Wish me luck!

Recap of some of my Tweets from today:

Follow @WayTooIndie for full coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival!

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