Post Mortem (2010)

Review #1,189

Director:  Pablo Larrain
Cast:  Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell
Plot:  In Chile, 1973, during the last days of Salvador Allende's presidency, an employee at a morgue's recording office falls for a burlesque dancer who mysteriously disappears.

Genre:  Drama 
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime:  98min
Rating:  M18 for some sexual scenes.
International Sales:  Funny Balloons

“These people were not here.  Why are they here now?”

Pablo Larrain, the director of No (2012), his breakthrough film of sorts, the one that propelled him firmly into international reckoning, is currently one of Chilean's cinema most prominent exports.  His two earlier works, Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem, forming the unofficial political trilogy with No, represent a provocative one-two punch to which the spectre of the country's dark history is expressed or perhaps resuscitated, if only momentarily through cinema. 

Post Mortem, shot in drab lighting and colour, intentionally captures a somber if mysterious time.  It is Chile 1973, days before a military coup that would see Augusto Pinochet rise to power.  A man named Mario falls in love with a woman called Nancy, who disappears suddenly.  That man, played by Alfredo Castro in a performance that could largely be described as cold and methodical, works at the local mortuary.  As autopsies are carried out, he would record the medical jargon on paper. 

The woman, inadvertently caught in the political crisis as a purported supporter of the ousted communist party, is a cabaret performer for an obnoxious theater master.  Both Mario and Nancy are neighbours.  In one bewildering scene, Nancy is invited by Mario to his home.  At the dinner table, she bursts into tears, followed by the man. 

It is a scene I'm still trying to reconcile – I suspect the whole film operates symbolically at a deeper level, which I only faintly grasp.  But at the very surface, it is indicative of circumstance – of all time, they choose to find solace (or not) in each other.  It is an emotional consequence of politics, one that traps individuals in a never-ending cycle of instability and fear.  In this regard, Larrain's film is quite an outstanding document of a volatile time and place. 

All in all, Post Mortem acts as a conduit to which the lack of accountability (of history), and the unexorcised ghosts of 1973 serve as a painful reminder to all who still remember the country's dark past.  However, Larrain's direction is very clinical, with scant focus on developing genuine emotions.  The film’s ending, shot in one long take, somehow elevates it into morbid art.  It is a brilliant takeaway scene in an otherwise understated if unsettling film.

Verdict:  Shot in drab lighting and colour, Larrain’s follow-up to Tony Manero is unsettling and clinical, but lacking in genuine emotions.


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