Sunday, September 11, 2005

Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas)

Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas) 60 – Maybe not the advancement over Japon that many hoped for, but still a singular piece of work, Carlos Reygadas’ second feature surveys the psychic damage that occurs after a kidnapping in Mexico City goes horribly wrong. The plot is a repudiation of those Paul Schrader-style films in which a sad sack works his way toward redemption. Here, Reygadas pessimistically concludes, neither legal nor spiritual justice can calm his working-class protagonist’s soul (and pitches the drama so that it implicates the director’s home country as well).

It’s clear that Reygadas is still developing his style. Some of his cribs (e.g. his Kiarostami-style in-car tracking shot, which is overlaid with a conversation) are even more distracting this time out, perhaps because this is a more cohesive work than the free-wheeling (though superior) Japon. Reygadas’ most distinctive gesture, the 360-degree pan is back here, sometimes used where it’s not really doing any good (I’m specifically thinking of that post-coital scene). His ambition is still incredible, and I’m willing to forgive him his missteps because he’s aiming so high. Serious-minded enough to command audience respect (even though it seemed mine disliked the film, there were very few walkouts), it’s filled with visionary moments that still alert the viewer of the brilliant career to come. Just when you thought you've seen enough art-film blow jobs to last a few lifetimes, here's one that transcends the cliche.

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