Directed by Pablo Larrain
Opens April 11 at Film Forum
The new film by Pablo Larrain, the director of Tony Manero, is another twisted drama with stabs of satire that raises the question: does the depiction of Chile in its grim 1970s require that your protagonist be a creepy weirdo? Larrain downshifts from a murderous sociopath obsessed with Saturday Night Fever to a pallid, fright-wigged dweeb obsessed with his dance-hall-performer neighbor. Barely competent morgue clerk Mario (Alfred Castro, who also played the first film’s nutcase) is largely oblivious to the 1973 coup going on around him—until the dead are piling up in corridors at work.
Shot with brittle Soviet lenses from 1960s, Castro’s Mario and his world look anemic, dreams already bled dry before Allende himself appears on the morgue’s autopsy table. Larrain sticks curdlingly close to Mario’s singular perspective, fleshing out the sense of history being warped with this walking alienation effect, instead of restaging the crowds of Battle of Chile. Even a co-worker who objects to the military cover-up—as much as is possible amidst the shrewdly portrayed menace—seems, to Mario, overwrought, and irrelevant to his pursuit of that opaque, drama-queen neighbor.
Mario’s apathy and nascent sociopathy help place the film in the tradition of cinema rendering the vomitous texture and inexpressible content of political upheaval on the ground—when life as we know it changes, and something demonic is released to rush into the void, as in, say, Cargo 200 or other looks at post-Soviet Russia. It all feels and looks unreal, but then sometimes so did the actual reality: the jets audible in the background of Post Mortem really did bombard Allende’s presidential palace, and hundreds of bodies really were dumped at the morgue during the coup. Even so, it’s fair to question whether Larrain is taking a shortcut by placing Mario at the film’s queasy center.