On the eve of the 1973 Chilean coup, coroner’s assistant Mario (Alfredo Castro) works in Santiago’s morgue typing up post mortem reports and blending into the background. Middle-aged and non-descript, he’s a grey man, someone you never notice, with no personal ties.
On the eve of
the 1973 Chilean coup, coroner’s assistant Mario (Alfredo Castro) works in Santiago’s morgue typing up post mortem
reports and blending into the background.
Middle-aged and non-descript, he’s a grey man, someone you never notice,
with no personal ties. He does
however nurse a secret passion that borders on the obsessive for neighbour and washed-up
burlesque dancer Nancy (Antonia Zegers). After she’s fired from the club she
dances in for being anorexic, the two begin a chilly, passionless affair as
around them Chilean society breaks down, the Pinochet regime purging its
opposition. With the military
junta’s victims flooding the morgue, Mario impassively gets on with his job, a
small cog in the state meat grinder.
Like its central
relationship Post Mortem is a cold,
passionless affair, lacking the vibrancy and fun of Larrain’s earlier Tony Manero, a film which also
dissected the political turmoil and violence of 1970s Chile through the
behaviour of a John Travolta-obsessed serial killer also played by Alfredo
Castro. Shot in muted browns and
beiges, the film captures the look and feel of the 70s, Castro’s colourless
protagonist a pallid ghost who haunts the morgue as he itemises the state’s
cruel excesses. Deeply
unsympathetic, Castro’s Mario is a complete blank, his sociopathic indifference
to the horror unfolding around him truly staggering. A virtual robot, Mario
mimics the emotions of those around him to gain their trust, the only real flash
of animation he displays is the nasty smirk that slowly twists his face when he’s
officiating at deposed President Allende’s post mortem and the cause of death
is ruled “suicide.” Equally
repellent is Zegers’ Nancy; a needy, manipulative shrew trading on her fading
looks and emaciated body.
deliberate, Post Mortem is so
ponderously-paced as to be almost interminable, Larrain driving home his theme
of oppression by oppressing the audience.
While it boasts some fantastic moments (Mario’s colleague breaking down
amid a hospital full of corpses, an unseen, off-screen raid on a house), very
little actually happens in Post Mortem
and it doesn’t happen to characters you give a monkey’s about. Perhaps the most interesting scene of
the film which sees Mario pay a local boy to dictate handwritten post mortem
notes while he types them up is undeniably creepy, hinting at possible paedo-
and necrophilic tendencies but Larrain never expands on this potentially rich
and intriguing moment and instead fills out his running time with more shots of
Mario frying eggs. Seriously, Castro
fries a lot of eggs in this film and Larrain depicts these culinary moments in
far more detail than he does the political upheaval outside the kitchen.
film forces the viewer into the role of Mario; coolly, dispassionately,
disinterestedly watching events unfold.