Film-Forward Review: [BATTLE IN HEAVEN]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Ill-fated lovers Marcos (Marcos Hernández & Anapola Mushkadiz)
Photo: Tartan

Directed & Written by: Carlos Reygadas.
Produced by: Philippe Bober, Susanne Marian, Carlos Reygadas & Jaime Romandia.
Director of Photography: Diego Martínez Vignatti.
Edited by: Adoración G. Elipe, Benjamin Mirguet, Carlos Reygadas & Nicolas Schmerkin.
Music by: John Tavener.
Released by: Tartan.
Language: Spanish with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Mexico/Belgium/France/Germany. 98 min. Not Rated.
With: Marcos Hernández, Anapola Mushkadiz & Bertha Ruiz.

Provocateur Carlos Reygadas’ new film comes preceded by a lot of hype regarding its sexually explicit scenes, confrontational storyline, and daring viewpoint of Mexico City today. Yes, they are all there – the sex, the nudity, and the class issues. Yet, the film fails to retain –or obtain even – the viewer’s interest due to a scenario full of clichés and amateur acting. Even the well-executed contrast between the classes gets lost amid the gratuitous sex, which serve no real purpose other than to shock and disturb the viewer.

The film mainly concerns the relationship between Marcos (Marcos Hernández), the chauffer of a general, and dreadlocked Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), the boss’s beautiful daughter. A heavy-set middle-aged Indian, Marcos and his wife have kidnapped a baby for ransom money, but the enfant has died. Ana, a young member of the Mexican social and economic elite, belongs to a “boutique,” a high-class brothel. In other words, this is the classic cliché of the older-man-in-crisis and the young nymphet of his dreams. She is not defined enough as a three-dimensional human being, and the secondary characters, such as Marcos’ wife, never achieve an emotional depth to elevate the film.

All are played by non-professional actors, and it shows in the lack of facial expressiveness, the failure to speak in natural intonations and the lack of the precise body language to accompany actions with words. And from the first scenes, the viewer can guess where the relationship between master and servant is going and how the film will end. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that; many films are predictable, yet they manage to compel because of engaging characters and unflagging pace. This, unfortunately, is not the case here.

However, scenes contrasting the stark differences in class between Marcos and Ana, as well as Ana’s world and the rest of the country – the majority – are arresting. A drive through the congested streets to Ana’s tree-lined, serene neighborhood succinctly reveals the strata of Mexico City. Indeed, the very idea of a relationship between the white daughter of the house and the dark-skinned driver is a very strong taboo in Latin America, and it would have been very interesting – and truly provocative – to see it handled in a more penetrating (no pun intended) manner, as opposed to skin-deep. Roxana Ramirez
February 17, 2006



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