A Chat With Carlos Reygadas...
Much has been made of BATTLE IN HEAVEN. A baby-kidnapping that goes tragically wrong is sandwiched between some of the most explicit on-screen bonking you’re likely to see on the big screen this year. A shock tactic to put bums on seats? Director Carlos Reygadas chats to FilmExposed’s Jimmy Razor about his brand of filmmaking…
For all his undoubted talent, Mexican director Carlos Reygadas is unlikely to get the call from Tom Cruise to direct the next Mission Impossible film. After gathering plaudits for the downbeat, existentialist drama Japón (2002), his new film Battle In Heaven is, if anything, even more self-consciously poetical and abstract. He explains his working methods with a fiery enthusiasm.
'I don't start a film with a script,' he says. 'I start with a reaction. After I finished Japón I wanted to do something different, something with lots of energy. I have a feeling for atmosphere, colour, texture, rhythm - those are the kinds of things that drive me first. I go to locations and meet people and I start feeling the story, the ideas in it.'
Rhythm, colour, texture - these elements play a much greater role in Battle In Heaven than more usual cinematic ingredients like character and plot. So is there even a script at all? 'Once I have all [these ideas] in my head,' he explains, 'I sit down and over three days, with only four or five hours' sleep, I write and write and write non-stop and finish the script. But what I produce is not a literary or traditional screenplay. It is rather a description of what you will see on the screen - a technical script. I'll describe the length of the shots, the optics I want, the colours, the sound, music, trying to visualise the film and describe it. It is like a working tool. And at that moment, the film is made. The rest is mechanical.'
The film certainly features some stunning images, with photography reminiscent of the casual sensuality of Wolfgang Tillmans' work. Reygadas tends to think very visually when planning his films. 'I use storyboards. I draw squares using a pattern I have - it's like a piece of cardboard with holes - and compose the framing. The drawings are very detailed. For Battle In Heaven the final film is very similar to the storyboards - 95% similar, or more. Sometimes I look at the storyboards and I really think they look like a copy of the film.'
Battle In Heaven stars a non-professional cast, who appear in a number of very explicit sex scenes. Where did he find his performers? 'Marcos [Hernández] I've known for twenty years. He was in Japón. He works at the Ministry of Culture, where he was attached to my father as a driver. The rest of the people in the film I found on the streets, when we were location scouting. Except for Ana,' he adds, referring to Anapola Mushkadiz, who can be seen naked on most of the film's publicity. 'I did a normal casting for her, only I said, "No actors, please"! She came and I liked her and that was it. It's very instinctive and fast, deciding who I want.'
Reygadas feels that preparation is the key to getting the performances he wants. Or rather, a lack of preparation: 'I never rehearse with the actors,' he explains. 'We will have technical rehearsals in situ, for the mechanics of the scene, but before being on set the actors don't know anything. Well, they know what kind of physical things they have to do. So I might say this part of the film will be shot in snow, and you will have to swim in ice cold water or whatever. You will have to be naked and have sex and jump out of a window - they know all this. If I didn't do this, we might get so far and then the actor could say "I'm not doing that!" and then I'd be in trouble! So they know what they have to do, but they don't know anything about who they are. They don't know anything psychological, because I don't want them to think about representation. Representation is a mask or an obstacle between the actor and the camera. I don't want interpretation - I just want them to be like a tree, or a plant that I can move around.
'That doesn't mean I don't allow them dignity!' he adds. 'Some people, especially in England, have been annoyed by this, saying, "He treats his actors like plants!" No. It's only like taking a photograph. You might move someone around for a photograph so you can try to capture the essence of what they are as well as you can.'
With its lyrical style and strong sexual content, Battle In Heaven will probably outrage some and charm others when it opens in the UK this month. But Reygadas doesn't look like he will ever water down his vision to cater to the Tom Cruise crowd.