Post Mortem (2010, Chile, w/d. Pablo Larrain)
The second film in Larrain’s trilogy (the third is currently making its way through the festival circuit) goes back to the time of the coup. It again stars Castro, this time as Mario, a timid, mop-haired morgue attendant. Again his character is an obsessive, this time fixated on a showgirl neighbor who has some connection or proximity to leftist concerns; again his character is a representation of traits toward which Larrain exhibits contempt — here, he is the face of indifference and selfishness in a situation which demands outrage and involvement.
The benefit of putting a more passive character at the center is that the movie doesn’t rely on him for direction. Events and ideas can come at him. Mario is socially retarded and almost impossibly inept, and Larrain does a better job at mining comedy from this than he did from Tony Manero's shock-slapstick outbursts. An attempt to exhibit sympathy ends in an extended, amusing crying jag. In the film’s ballsiest scene, Mario upstages the gruesome examination of Salvador Allende’s corpse by struggling with an electronic typewriter (a civil servant whose main job is to type up autopsy reports, he cannot type.) And when Mario finally does take a side, and acts with a methodical self-concern, his actions have meaning larger than his own.
There is still a lot of observational dead time on screen. I find myself wanting to like Larrain’s films more than I do because they are historically engaged and personally expressive, and it is not as if the United States is currently awash in films like that, or even in films from this part of the world. But being engaged is not the same as being engaging; perhaps I am greedy in wanting both. There is a sequence where Larrain lets the camera roll while someone stacks furniture for five solid minutes.(*) Maybe you will appreciate the devastating resonance (and the occasional sad chuckle) of that redundant duration. Or maybe, after twenty seconds, you will roll your eyes and mumble, “Yeah, I get it.”
(*) Spoiler alert?