Further thoughts on An Honest Living (by way of Mexican art cinema)

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Post Tenebras Lux
  • Post Tenebras Lux
In my recent post about noteworthy final shots of 2013, I could have mentioned Carlos Reygadas's Post Tenebras Lux, which received its first Chicago run last year (and screened again at Doc Films this past weekend as part of their series of new Latin American cinema). Reygadas concludes his autobiographical free-for-all—which is by turns exalted, dreamlike, and perverse—with a relatively prosaic sequence, which depicts a British boys' rugby team huddling before a big game. "Remember," the captain says in his pep talk, "they've got individuals, but we've got a team!" Cut to the credits.

I found this confounding on a first viewing, as I suspect many viewers did. Even though Reygadas has shown us the rugby team once before in the film, the sequence seems to come out of nowhere. Learning that Reygadas had played rugby while attending an English boarding school doesn't clarify things much. But now that I've seen Lux a few times, I think it's meant to be an expression of longing. For most of the film, Reygadas is ruminating on what it's like to be a major artist—to live in the solitude of one's imagination, to feel estranged from all those nonartists who comprise the majority of humankind. For someone wrestling with his particular angst, it must feel strange indeed to imagine oneself as part of a team.

For a while, I considered Lux to be the product of Reygadas's privilege (I wrote as much when I first saw it at the 2012 Chicago International Film Festival). But watching the fine local doc An Honest Living reminded me that most artists, major and minor, grapple with feelings of estrangement at some point. All four of the movie's subjects seem to have their hands full between making art and working their day jobs. Director Jordan Freese shows them doing little else, creating the impression they've never had time for family life or long-term romantic relationships. When one of the subjects—a martial arts master who's worked as an engineer and a college-level math teacher—mentions having a son in one of the movie's later passages, I was almost as surprised by his revelation as I was by Reygadas's rugby players.

Honest Living also conveys a sense of longing—but since its subjects don't have to contend with fame and fortune in addition to the creative process, this longing doesn't feel as pronounced as it does in Lux. Still, I think the films compliment each other. Living details the pleasures of being a minor artist, while Lux illustrates why most people don't want to be major ones. It requires a special constitution to sacrifice one's anonymity and leave behind so many rituals that, for the majority, make up normal life.

An Honest Living screens again tonight at the Siskel Center at 8:15 PM.

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