|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Carlos Reygadas, 2005, Mexico, 98 mins, Spanish with English subtitles
Cast: Marcos Hernández, Anapola Mushkadiz, Berta Ruiz
There are going to be two schools of thought about Battle in Heaven. Some people will approach it as a mystical and ambiguous tone-poem of a film. And others may just consider it an excuse for a lot of on-screen humping.
Marcos (Hernández) and his wife are poor, middle-aged residents of Mexico City. They have kidnapped a baby for the ransom money, but the plan has turned into a disaster. Rather than trying to put things right, Marcos instead seeks consolation in the company of Ana (Mushkadiz), his employer's pretty daughter. But when their relationship turns carnal, he must face his own disintegration, unless he can find redemption in a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Lady of Guadeloupe.
While the story may seem simple, the narrative style is anything but. Director CARLOS REYGADAS, uses a strangely detached camera style, filming apparently in available light and using long slow pans during pivotal scenes. The camera watches the action quite objectively, giving the characters only as much importance as passers by, and lingering on the banal and everyday - perhaps as an acknowledgement of the great tapestry of Mexican life that forms the backdrop to Marcos' story.
Early in the film, Marcos breaks his glasses, and much of what follows drifts in and out of focus to reflect his own short-sightedness. The technique doesn't put the viewer in Marcos' position, but rather makes him even more distant. In fact all of the characters are seen as if at a distance – the film gives little hint of their motivation or their inner life, instead concentrating on their sensuous and glorious surfaces.
Whether the film succeeds or not depends very much on your patience with such an openly poetical style. Battle in Heaven recalls the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, its story only sketched in to act as a framework for the lyrical contemplation of broader issues - faith, love, loneliness, atonement.
And humping. Because there is a lot of humping in Battle in Heaven. Some viewers may not be able to see beyond the opening scene: a long, lingering shot of a girl giving a fat bloke a blowjob. And it doesn't end there - possibly a fifth of the duration of the whole picture is dedicated to people having sex, in explicit detail. Usually very ordinary people with decidedly non-Hollywood figures. Whether you believe this is a rare investigation of the beauty of physical love, or an attention-seeking shock-tactic will be a matter of opinion.
Nonetheless, there are many scenes in the film that border on the magical. The camera floating through a subway station; Marcos impulsively climbing to the top of a mountain, and covering his face at the vastness of the view; the defiantly silent bells of the cathedral, refusing to ring despite being struck again and again. Whether these are enough to satisfy you over 98 ambiguous and sometimes shocking minutes will depend on whether you like a lot of poem with your movie.