PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

'Post Mortem': History Out of Order in Chile 1979

Post Mortem concerns bodies and reports, the order that one might impose on the other.


Post Mortem

Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Jaime Vadell, Amparo Noguera, Marcelo Alonso, Marcial Tagle
Rated: NR
Studio: Kino Lorber Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2012-04-11 (Limited release)
UK date: 2011-09-09 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Mario (Alfredo Castro) works at a morgue. Specifically, he takes notes for the coroner, sitting each day for hours at a manual typewriter, tap-tapping causes of death described by his boss, Dr. Castillo (Jaime Vadell). At home, Mario finds distraction by watching his neighbor, Nancy (Antonia Zeggers), from his window across the street. She's a dancer, and she seems exotic.

As its title suggests, Post Mortem -- which is open this week at Film Forum -- concerns bodies and reports, the order that one might impose on the other. The film begins as Mario's routine changes. He purchases a ticket for the cabaret where Nancy works, and makes his way backstage in hopes of finding her, past ladders and girls in feathers and the knife-thrower's Wheel of Death, full of slits caused by knives thrown. As Mario watches from the hallway, he hears Nancy being fired: "You look like an ironing board," her boss tells her, "No one wants to dance with you anymore." Though she protests that she's always weighed what she weighs now, he dismisses her, "Come back after you eat a couple of stews."

Mario's advent at Nancy's dressing room door here is more comic than heroic: he's unable to provide much in the way of emotional solace or material support, a pint underlined by their similar appearances: his face and frame, like hers, are gaunt and prematurely aged. But he does offer her a ride home, at which point you see their context: it's 1973 in Santiago, Chile, and the streets are filled with angry protestors. If Mario and Nancy are unaware that a military coup against President Salvador Allende is underway, they take brief note of the crowds blocking their way. She urges him to keep driving ("Just step on the gas"), but the car is blocked long enough that a protestor pokes his head in the window and pronounces, "Nobody's going home."

It's a grim beginning for Nancy and Mario's relationship, which is, as you might anticipate, less a romance than a revelation. They do make their way "home," such as it is, though when Nancy's father holds a meeting to organize against the government, she arrives on Mario's doorstep ("My house is full of men talking about politics, none of them want to have a drink with me"). For long minutes, Mario and Nancy sit at his table, plates of fried eggs and rice in front of them as they both begin to weep, neither looking at the other as their bodies are wracked by their sobs. The cut to the expected sex scene, is likewise jarring: the camera keeps close on her neck and exposed breast, her mouth open as you hear his gasps, a sound that doesn’t so much express pleasure or release as anguish and pain.

They're in for more trouble, of course. Nancy's house is bombed and her father and young brother disappear, while the morgue where Mario works is conscripted by the military and soon filled with bodies -- literally. As much as Dr. Castillo and his assistant Sandra (Amparo Noguera) try to keep track of corporeal remains, they're reluctant to abandon protocol, and instead to tag each body without names and with cursory "causes of death." As the corpses take over all spaces, from hallways to stairways, the film keeps focused on Mario's efforts to cope: loading bodies off vans and onto carts, wheeling them along endless dank hallways. The camera keeps back during these labors, following behind the rumbling cart, pausing to watch from a distance as Mario, so thin and weak, struggles to lift a corpse that's fallen off the cart.

Despite his efforts, Mario can't keep up. He's unable to type fast enough during sessions where he and Dr. Castillo are now monitored by an odious line of soldiers. The doctor -- who suggests early on that they're all subject to the "wheel of history... where the dialectic contradiction occurs," producing, at last, "a new man, virginal and vigorous, creative and powerful, sober, tall" -- sighs and submits, naming causes of death (say, suicide) that can't possibly be. Mario keeps his head down, even when he's replaced at the new electric typewriter by a soldier who can actually type.

At home, though, where Mario has no reports to make, he's less able to look away. He can't maintain the fiction he tells himself, about Nancy's needs and his own heroism. This as the film, again, keeps a distance. For long moments, you see him looking out his window, frying his eggs, or looking after Nancy's injured dog, his face haggard and increasingly hard to read. Though he assures Nancy that he can provide for and protect her ("I have a position now"), Mario has no idea how to help. Looking at him, so fatigued and so sad, you might guess at how he comprehends the changed order in Santiago. But you don't have to guess at the changed context: it's impossible to manage all the bodies.

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.