Illustration: Adeline Pericart
We laughed, we cried, we sneaked in our own popcorn. 2011 brought with it some memorable trips to the cinema to revel in the joy of film. And so the Film Ireland collection of filmbots look back in love and recall their favourite films of the last year in the latest installment of…
‘… extraordinary, dreamlike …’
Pablo Larrain is a young talented Chilean film director who, after portraying, in his second film feature Tony Manero (2008), a serial killer obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever, brings on screen another extraordinary, dreamlike and obscure story, Post Mortem set during the terrible years of Pinochet’s dictatorship.
A neurotic Chilean mortuary assistant in the year of Pinochet’s coup, experiences the shift in focus of his peculiar job as he is no longer there to investigate the cause of people deaths but suddenly becomes somebody who is needed to record the bullet holes on the bodies of people who were resisting the military regime at the time and for this reason became ‘the Disappeared’.
Alfredo Castro plays Mario, who is employed as a mortuary assistant in Santiago and appears more than anything as an ordinary man, perhaps slightly bizarre and manneristic. His job is to write down the coroner’s running commentary of all the various wounds, fractures and lesions he discovers while dissecting corpses. Mario’s look is somewhat macabre himself, with long and strangely kempt grey hair.
From a quite strikingly precise mise en scene we can perceive that Mario has evidently broken off a difficult relationship with a colleague and has now started to be fascinated by Nancy (Antonia Zegers), an expressive and anorexic dancer (again themes from Pablo Larrain’s previous film Tony Manero), who lives across the road with her older brother, a communist agitator. Nancy, having recently been fired from a burlesque revue show for being too unsexily thin, accepts Mario loose attempts of having her around and perhaps in his bed. However, their affair unfolds in a non-conventional way as while Nancy is self regarding and openly flamboyant, Mario shows no linear desires of being at her side or supportive during her moments of crisis. The relationship between Mario and Nancy develops at the height of the coup itself. When Nancy suddenly vanishes, Mario is coldly informed by an army officer that he and his colleagues must record the autopsy of a very important person, a top-secret autopsy that will be attended by all the Pinochet top people – and they are expected to file a result consistent with a ‘suicide’ verdict.
Post Mortem is about the psychological readjustment of a man to what is going on during the terrible Pinochet regime. We are not directly informed whether the events portrayed are just a personal reproduction of Mario’s imagination or something that somehow happened in reality. This continuous cross over between reality and dreamlike state takes Post Mortem to a close comparison to some of Fellini’s masterpieces. A link to 8 ½ is undeniable in this case.
From an editing point of view, the film itself is distinctly split into two chapters: the first explores the relationship between Mario and Nancy. After all, this is the story of two lonely characters. The second chapter instead looks into the aftermath of the coup and its consequences on the people involved; therefore it’s more tragic and real than the first chapter. In this sense Post Mortem represents a sort of follow up to the previous Larrain film feature, Tony Manero. In fact the realistic way in which the drama unfolds in this second chapter of the film, exploits more in depth the legacy of macabre humour left by Larrain’s earlier work . Indeed, in Post Mortem, Chile’s life during those years is explored even further and in an enigmatic but effective and troubling representation.
The city of Santiago is the geographical setting for this ‘character study’ film. The city itself seems just as ghostly before the Pinochet’s coup as it does after. From the start to the end, we can sense how Mario’s experiences are only perceived through a sort of echo of a distant world. It feels like his daily life has been carried out there in his Santiago of every day but his inner and troubled psyche has been wondering somewhere else – in an imaginary world where dead people are hard to distinguish from those alive.