Trent Film Society Presents Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven

From Trent University’s Arthur Student Newspaper:


Mexican director Carlos Reygadas continues to impress critics and audiences with each feature. With four to date, each film traverses different terrains while developing a distinct style, influenced by the filmmaking greats Carl Theodor Dreyer, Roberto Rossellini, Robert Bresson, and Andrei Tarkovsky. Reygadas wanders into New Extremism territory in his second feature Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005) and because of its explicit sexuality and violence, has managed to divide critics as well as spark debate among film scholars. Perhaps a disappointing follow-up to the brilliant debut (Japón, 2002), Battle in Heaven nevertheless pushes us beyond the confines of James Quandt’s lacklustre definition of New Extremity, and so the film is of interest to Trent Film Society’s series of corporeal works.

Marcos Hernandez plays himself, a chauffeur outside the film as well as within it. Anapola Mushkadiz also has a role that stretches no further than exhibiting her extra-diegetic traits: daughter of a General in the film – Marcos is her chauffeur – and daughter of a Mexican media mogul in the real world. Mushkadiz (a pseudonym) is also a self-proclaimed dilettante; the task of portraying a prostitute in a high-end brothel, she claims, suits her just fine. Battle in Heaven then follows Marcos as he struggles with sexuality, religiosity, a meagre, working class existence, and a botched kidnapping of his sister-in-law’s child. Lacking psychological motivation altogether, and furthermore a logical narrative structure, the story’s focus, instead of the uninteresting kidnapping, is on the unlikely couple of Marcos and Ana- unlikely not simply because of the unattractiveness of the former and beauty in the latter, but rather the social strata has divided them to an irreconcilable degree. It is this class division, argues Tiago de Luca, which is the force of the film, demonstrating through the impossibility of these two individuals coming together, a critique of the separation between incomes, health, and race. Where his French peers have focused on bourgeois problems, Reygadas situates characters in an entirely different social milieu, and thus the logical incoherence of the plot provides us with the critical distance to think, and hopefully discuss, class, and racial division in contemporary Mexico.

The realism of the film pervades our viewing experience; non-professional actors, real spaces, and therefore real events taking place on screen. This is the appeal and shock of the sex scenes between Marcos and his wife, and Marcos and Ana. Their fumbling and discomfort at performing these acts problematizes the fiction/reality divide, accomplishing then a heightened awareness of the images onscreen. Depicting the brute facts of existence within a fictional film is a defining characteristic of New Extreme cinema and therefore Battle in Heaven can be thought of as such.


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