Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Batalla en el Cielo (Battle in Heaven)

A flaccid cinematic experience, notoriously book-ended by two unsimulated, yet somewhat abstracted blow-jobs; one sad, one happy.

"Unfortunately, narrative is still a part of cinema and I don’t know how to get around that," director Carlos Reygadas has stated. It hasn't stopped him having a good old go here though.

Reygadas may not be much interested in psychology, but then he doesn't give us that much reason here to be gripped by what he is interested in. It's as if he is trying to bring the aesthetics of photography to a motion picture exploration of his personal selection of the facets of life in Mexico City. The natural inertness of his amateur actors obviously appeals to him − in several scenes they seem to be operating under the gravitational pull of a hypothetical still image. As noted before, I personally prefer the way that Carlos Sorin uses archetypes extracted from reality in his films.

What Reygadas can't disguise is that his real focus is on what's going on in the background. And in this area at least, his observations are as penetrating as those provided by another Mexican film, Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También; though that one also featured a rather more engaging foreground narrative.

Reygadas sets about using a string of situations and incidents to communicate how extremes are very much part of the fabric of the everyday in Mexico. That a General's daughter should be moonlighting as a hooker might seem like an outrageous (and unexplained) part of the set-up to some viewers, but in Latin America the rich girl turned prostitute is practically a cliché. Amongst the other glimpses we get of life in the Mexican metropolis are two over-stuffed cars, one packed with poor people, one with rich kids. V chuckled at the familiarity of the scence where the bodyguard steps out of a garage and holds up on-coming traffic so that his employer can back his car out. The blockage continues as the driver then enters into a discussion with his uniformed maid. She also pointed out to me that daughters of affluent Latin families are indeed prone to develop transgressively close relationships with male household servants in the absence of intimate bonds with their own flesh and blood.

The story that fronts this video diary is so impassive that you can effectively make of it what you want. Marcos, a driver for a Mexican General with a squeaky voice, has with his bulbous wife kidnapped and accidentally killed the child of a friend of theirs, a woman you would not expect to have a substantial disposable income for ransom-paying purposes. Marcos confesses the crime to the General's daughter Ana, who detects his vulnerability and appears to exploit it, sexually at least, and suffers the consequences.

For this reason it was rather grating to hear the interview with Anapola Mushkadiz − the director at her side − in which she observed of her co-star Marcos Hernández that "we are so much more complicated" than he is. To which Reygadas then added "If I tell him to jump out of a window he probably would." So, a film about endemic, fruitless exploitation which itself appears to have been guilty of the same!

To avoid offending U Certificate audiences, the DVD cover (pictured) has provided Ana with some computer-generated hair extensions to cover her exposed nipples.

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