This is the third outing of the Chilean director Pablo Larrain. He has returned to the screen accompanied by the same team, and lead actor, that brought us his previous film, Tony Manero.
Post Mortem lays out a story of a loner, Mario Cornejo (played by Alfredo Castro), in front of the close-cropped backdrop of Chile’s military coup of 1973. Mario, a morgue employee who types up autopsy reports leads a lonely and monotonous life, seemingly overlooked and ignored by the world around him. This is until he develops an obsession with a washed-up burlesque dancer who lives across the road, and is unwittingly pulled to the centre-stage of the events of the coup that the film is inspired by.
I purposefully did as little as possible to explore the themes and makers of this film before watching it. I know nothing of the Chilean coup, nor the characters that are all based on real people gleamed from an article read by the director to inspire the film.
And that, unfortunately, is where I ended up. The film is a work of fiction, as far as one can tell. Despite the real-world context we are told nothing of the coup itself; it all happens beyond our protagonist’s sight, just off camera and just out of earshot.
As for the story itself, I struggled to find one. I couldn’t understand if this was a tale of the events, the characters or the politics. It seemed as if the director had several great ideas and concepts but wasn’t sure how to orchestrate or deliver them. We experience it all from the point of view of the protagonist, Mario, but he is an almost blank canvas for the majority of the film that I couldn’t identify with.
Nothing happens to Mario directly, nor does he do anything. The political precipice is at hand, the coup just over the edge, but Mario is not involved. Nothing changes his life, but for the burlesque dancer, Nancy (Antonia Zegers). There is no natural movement to the story, it feels contrived and staged for the film itself. Further to that, the acting from the whole cast is, for the most part, bland and monotonous. The script seemed read, rather than performed; and when the characters are faced with terrible situations, the portrayal hardly changes.
Aside from the lack of story and direction, the film does have great concept and visual personality. The close cropped shots echo a still photograph, framed and held whilst the scene unfolds within it. Just outside the frame the political and social events play out, we oblivious to them as much as our protagonist is. The quality of film and colour firmly sits us in the early seventies, immersing us in the world.
Overall, I was disappointed by this film. I generally feel that foreign films that making it into the English speaking market have some merit to them (hence why they were able to make it out here). Post Mortem, however, seemed empty and vacant. It was as if Larrain has put some great ideas into a box and wrapped it in fantastic cinematography. But once we get inside, those ideas don’t fit together, and they don’t explain one another.
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