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Battle in Heaven (Batalla En El Cielo) | Review

Mexico Unplugged

Reygadas blurs lines between fiction and documentary.

Having extended itself throughout the entire festival circuit with stops at Toronto, Cannes and now Sundance, like his recently produced Sangre, Carlos Reygadas’ Battala en el Cielo is explicit not only in its treatment of nudity and sexuality, but in its critical reflection of social ills from Mexican most populated city. Reygadas uses an iron grip on the significance of visual compositions and imagery to examine possible themes and such a strong cinematic sense may or may not compensate for the lack of practical content. Art-house audiences will ultimately be the ones to decide.

With one of the more memorable opening sequences in recent memory, part of the Reygadas psychoanalysis discourse is to magnify the insignificant in daily living. Eating, waiting and engaging in the act of sex become part of the forefront. Amongst the backdrop of Mexico’s class system differences, Reygadas uses a pair of non-actors in the roles of a chubby, regressed employee and his employer’s daughter – their relationship is far from the norm and the if you can’t have them then kill them resolution is a puzzling, but yet, not that surprising of a denouement. It’s a cruelly violent world both in theory – and within the final act.

Part of a groundbreaking national cinema, this is a film that challenges audiences not on some cerebral platform but on its aesthetic stratagem. The camera has its own disconnected gaze, the handheld treatment is choppy at times and it travels away from the protagonist and the framing of the characters shows the human body with all of its faults while the long take filming of key sequences via photographer Diego Martinez Vignatti’s camera places the viewer in a docu-like world. Like his first feature in Japón, cut-throat shocking sequences with a extremely slow pacing shows the filmmaker’s grip – one that demands that social ills that are under examination aren’t discarded by the fictionalized narrative. Tartan USA should find some risk takers willing to visit this facade of Mexico City.

Sundance 2006 – Jan.21

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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