Battle In Heaven Movie Review
Marcos (Marcos Hernandez) drives for a high-ranked general in the Mexican army and also, carts around the general's daughter, Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz). Ana is the girl from the beginning scene, which is quickly dispelled as a daydream. Marcos has received word from his wife (Bertha Ruiz) that a baby which they kidnapped (a reason is curiously not given) has died. Marcos is sullen, but not panicked. Seeing him distracted, Ana offers to get him laid by one of her fellow high-end prostitutes. When the opportunity comes, he announces that he'll only have sex with Ana, whom he quickly admits the kidnapping to. She demands he go to the police, but not before jumping his bones. He tells his wife that he must confess, but not before the annual pilgrimage which serves as the tail-end of a sucker-punch ending.
Anyone familiar with Carlos Reygadas' first film, 2003's Japon, knows he is not an easy director to embrace. He is of a particular breed of art-house filmmakers that see controversial imagery and subject matter as a way to puncture our mindset which allows for an open discussion of sex, faith, and morality. Reygadas' use of sexuality is his strongest asset. He doesn't shy away from showing Marcos and his obese wife going at it without an inch of shame. He also has no problem allowing the camera to meditate on strong images like Marcos' limp penis and Ana's vagina. The Brown Bunny and 9 Songs are kids' stuff compared to the sexual acts Reygadas' uses to rile us up.
However, like fellow provocateur Catherine Breillat, his imagery doesn't come without a price. The style he peddles in is a considerably prickly and alienating way to show things, prompting many to walk out at Cannes (where it debuted) and even at the showing I attended at NYC's Angelika Theater. It has a fascinating feel of something new; an uncompromised vision of sex and faith that doesn't really care about its audience but doesn't condemn them either.
The actors, mostly amateurs, don't so much give performances as they are used by Reygadas to enhance the stirring imagery of his film. There are moments where the filmmaker, helped endlessly by the talented cinematographer Diego Martínez Vignatti, trails away from his characters to catch deep breaths of life outside his world (e.g. the sex scene between Ana and Marcos, where the camera exits the room to float in the snippets of dialogue that scatter throughout the neighborhood). In these moments, Reygadas shows a meditative nature that entrances the viewer, like a more restless Tsai Ming-Liang. His problem is that he doesn't balance these moments with his moments of carnal imagery with enough fluidity. That aside, I'd be lying if I didn't say this is one of the more original and piercing films I've seen in awhile.
Aka Batalla en el cielo.
Don't worry. She's not real.