Battle In Heaven

Battle In Heaven


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Mexico City, the present. Marcos (Marcos Hernandez), a private security guard to a general, is tormented by the accidental death of a baby that he and his wife (Berta Ruiz) had kidnapped for ransom. So he turns to Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), the pampered general's daughter, to confess his crime, knowing that she will not reveal his secret any more than he will hers - that for years she has been prostituting herself in a high-class brothel.

Soon this unlikely pair - he middle-aged, fat and on a low income, she young, beautiful and rich - are having an intense affair. Torn between loyalty to his wife and son and the need to unburden his guilt, Marcos finally finds mystical redemption amongst a crowd of worshippers at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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Writer/director Carlos Reygadas has chosen to open and close his second feature with a scene that belongs to the chronological centre of its narrative - Marcos being fellated by a weeping Ana. It is certainly an arresting image, not just for its sexual explicitness, which no doubt will bring to the film a murmur of notoriety, but also for its shocking transgression of normative boundaries, as two people of vastly different age and class are brought together into a strange union. As such, the scene captures the essence of Battle In Heaven - portrait of a crowded city where sacred and secular, soldier and civilian, saint and sinner, rich and poor, police and criminal, pagan and Christian, mother, virgin and whore rub up against one another in a shifting dance that is part illicit fuck and part cultic ritual.

The meretricious blowjob at either end of Battle In Heaven also serves as a counterpoint to other scenes within the film. A sexual encounter between Marcos and his even fatter wife may hardly be a glamorous affair, but it is part of their intimate communication with each other, prefaced by the words, "We've got to talk" - whereas being sucked by Ana is a rather literal way of ensuring that the young woman is unable to speak. Yet if Ana's act sees her bowing down before someone who ought to be her employee, by the film's end it is the conflicted Marcos who will be on his knees, tearfully lowering his head in search of the absolution that Ana was unable to give him.

The film is rich in allegorical theme and symbolic imagery, transforming the most banal of materials into miraculous epiphanies. If the use of disorientingly layered sounds, a non-professional cast, inscrutably minimalist performances, sweepingly panoramic camerawork, a self-indulgently slow pace and very little dialogue earns Reygadas his arthouse credentials, it is all too aimlessly hypnotic to get a firm grip on the viewer's attention.

Battle In Heaven may be confronting, even stimulating, but it is unlikely to blow anyone away.

Reviewed on: 27 Oct 2005
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An ugly taxi driver and the prostitute daughter of a general go at it and at it and (yawn).
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Read more Battle In Heaven reviews:

John Gallagher ***
Gator MacReady *

Director: Carlos Reygadas

Writer: Carlos Reygadas

Starring: Marcos Hernandez, Anapola Mushkadiz, Berta Ruiz, David Bornstien, Rosilanda Ramirez

Year: 2005

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Mexico/France/Germany/Belgium

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