Returning from "Tony" is Alfredo Castro, the Chilean Al Pacino look-alike, though this time he has no interest in "Saturday Night Fever" nor in random acts of murder. Instead, Castro plays Mario, a guileless man that works in a morgue as a transcriber. Smitten by his neighbor Nancy, a burlesque dancer/revolutionary, he gives her a ride home and soon finds himself caught in a political demonstration lead by the Communist Youth of Chile. An amusing visual and also foreshadowing what's to come, a man in the parade notices Nancy and encourages her to join up. Mario makes his way through the crowd, quietly frustrated that his romantic plans have been thwarted. In a surprise later on, she visits him while he's eating dinner, tired of the political talks taking place at her house. Cut to rowdy sex, and following that is a long date that probably should've occurred first. It's a precious date, with Mario proposing they get married in an awkward yet sincere way. She blows it off as a joke, and it's at this point that every party involved- both characters and audience - assumes the rest of the flick will be a little deranged love story. They're not entirely wrong, but just as the next day hits, Mario finds Nancy's house empty and destroyed, and discovers the hospital taken over by the military. Relieved of his transcribing, he must tag and label dead bodies, wheeling stacks of them through the long, somber hallways of the morgue.
If "Tony Manero" seemed to avoid the politics of the circumstance, "Post Mortem" can't, constantly throwing its characters into the middle of Communist meetings or military junta. It's thankfully not overbearing, focusing on the people that find themselves caught in the middle of the mess and painting both sides of the coin negatively. Larrain's opts to observe the situation and let it speak for itself, from the military take over of the hospitals to the boarded up shops that line the town. It's a bleak life, one that's inescapable no matter where you go, and it breaks each character down one by one. Even Mario, who eventually finds his woman and hides her, loses himself when he finds her stowed away with a communist boyfriend from the beginning demonstration.
It's not a forgettable movie by any means, but there's also really not much to reflect on post-viewing. Sure, there's the given things, such as the acting and the cinematography and so forth, and those wanting to learn more about the political history of Chile due to the subject matter goes without saying, but nothing else in the film warrants an after-thought. There's only appreciation of the product: how well it was made, how the story was handled, etc. But similar to the escapist films it stands apart from, there are only general, simplistic impressions afterwards, such as what a terrible time it was for the country or how Nancy took advantage of Mario's kindness and love. For all its subtleties and intelligence, the ideas don't run as deep as they should.
Pablo Larrain is certainly carving out an interesting resume, with two films that are stylistically harking back to the lauded but unfortunately lost cinema of the 70s, and a third film on the way to close the "trilogy." He's got his chops, and if he can keep up the skill while honing in on the unique style of humor he imbues into his films, plus have more of a conversation with the audience, he'll be set to have a truly great film. "Post Mortem" is at times genuinely unsettling and seems like a lost film from those times, but the director's more substantial work seems to lie ahead. [B-]
This is a reprint of our review from the New York Film Festival in 2010.