Post Mortem

Post Mortem

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Isolation, obsession and amorality are bread and butter to filmmaker Pablo Larrain, a director bent on exploring deeper themes of societal breakdown through the prism of his flawed central characters.

He used the dictatorship of General Pinochet as a springboard for his bleak twist on a serial killer movie in Tony Manero and here he travels even further back in time to Pinochet's violent 1973 coup against president Salvador Allende to examine the brutalised lives of the general populace. Starting as he means to go on, the film opens with a startlingly harsh sequence shot from beneath a truck as its caterpillar tracks crush all before it. This sense of military violence is never far away, although his central charater Mario (Alfredo Castro, in similar clinical weirdo territory to his portrayal of Raul in Tony Manero) seems curiously distanced from it. He is an isloated civil servant whose day job is to write down post mortem notes, with the end result that he seems desensitised to death.

Mario's lack of reaction to corpses, in fact, is one of the aspects of the film that holds the greatest horror, as we, so much less immune than he is, are confronted both with the stark reality of bodies piling up as a result of indiscriminate military violence and Mario's equally disturbing resignation to it. Mario is, in fact, much less concerned with the political machinations of his country than he is with past-her-prime cabaret dancer Nancy (Antonia Zegers), who lives across the road from him. Obsessed with her, he woos her with stilted awkwardness. She responds but more in a bid to hangout at Mario's place as respite from her father's constant clandestine political meetings than through any sense of shared desire. There are moments that could be shared empathy or, more chillingly, just a cracked mimicry of the emotion.

What the two do have in common is loneliness and, through them, Larrain gives us a sense of a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The idea of hunger is everywhere, from the scarcity of food and Nancy's emaciated frame to Mario's animalistic appetites. This is a bleak lesson in life - where the only way to physically survive unscathed is to give your psyche a monstrous makeover.

Larrain's deliberately framed shots - frequently with long takes and a fixed camera - and masterful use of sound, make us acutely aware of violence happening within earshot yet just out of sight. There is a sense that unseen oppression lurks everywhere and death is only a matter of time, all of which adds to the film's growing air of horror and dread, culminating in its chillingingly awful final sequence. A gripping and emotionally affecting consideration of the casual evils that men do.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2011
Share this with others on...
Post Mortem packshot
A mortuary worker begins an unlikely romance with a burlesque dancer against the backdrop of Chile's 1973 military coup.
Amazon link

Director: Pablo Larraín

Starring: Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell, Amparo Nobuera, Marcelo Alonso

Year: 2008

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Chile, Mexico, Germany

Festivals:

SSFF 2010
EIFF 2011

Search database: