Sunday, April 8, 2012

Pablo Larraín's POST MORTEM gives us Chile's Allende from an unusual angle

You couldn't ask for a more bizarre, nor more reflective image of Augusto Pinochet's take-over of Chile than the one Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín gives us in his new film, POST MORTEM. That image is simply one of bodies piling up over the floors, stairs, hallways -- everywhere -- in the morgue of Santiago. We've seen the attack on the Capitol per The Battle for Chile, and the horrors of the amphitheater in It's Raining on Santiago, but something as after-the-fact and mundane as the goings-on at a morgue is as much deadpan as dead. Whether all this happened as shown -- or was less obvious, or maybe much worse -- is beside the point. The images you'll take away, once you've seen this movie, will probably prove indelible. The movie itself? Not so much.

On the basis of the two films TrustMovies has seen by Señor Larraín -- Tony Manero and Post Mortem -- he'd say this filmmaker has a gift for dark juxtaposition: the homage to John Tavolta's character coupled to serial killing in TM, and now the military coup's capture and killing of its enemies reduced to a literal autopsy in PM. Larraín (shown at right) also understands how to take one of his country's seminal events -- the overthrow of the democratically-elected regime of Salvador Allende -- and view it from a sidelong glance so that it appears, on one level, less important than the story at hand, while at the same time exerting enormous force on everything from characters to events. He is also very good at showing us how adept was Chile's citizenry at ignoring or seeming to ignore what was going on all around it. (There's one hell of a great image in this film that makes both literal and symbolic the enormous repression of people, actions and ideas under Pinochet.

The problem, then? There's maybe 30 minutes of content here, attenuated to fill the film's more than hour-and-one-half running time. (This was true of Tony Manero, too.) That the attenuation is handled stylishly is helpful, but eventually it cannot disguise the paucity of event or the needless repetition in which the filmmaker indulges.

So many shots are held for so long -- hey, you want to know how to cook an egg?! -- that you may finally give in to your wish to yell "Cut!" aloud in the theater. There's a crying jag offered up by first one and then another character that lasts long enough to have you scratching your head to locate a purpose for its length -- other then, Gee, these actors sure know how to sob! And finally we have that repression/suppression scene, in which so many pieces of furniture are moved into place that you want to scream, "We get it. We get it, OK?"

Taking the leading role, as he did as well in Tony Manero, Alfredo Castro (above left, and further above) proves again that he can hold attention by virtue of his marvelously odd face alone. He does little emoting (other than that crying jag) but manages to sleepwalk through life, much in the way that Larraín seems to be telling us that Chile's population once did. As his odd lady love, who works and then gets booted from what passes for the low-end Chilean version of the Folies Bergère, Antonia Zegers (above right, and below) provides the emoting that's missing from Mr. Castro. They make a fine and interestingly mismatched pair.

Post-Mortem, from Kino Lorber, 98 minutes, opens this Wednesday, April 11, in New York City at Film Forum. Click here to view any upcoming, currently-scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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