A losing Battle
By Noah Fowle
On the surface, Battle in Heaven has everything necessary to make an intriguing film: sex, kidnapping, nationalism, religion, and more sex. Yet Mexican writer/director Carlos Reygadas steadfastly drains his sophomore effort of any emotion and context, turning it into a dull, meditative exercise. Shot with non-professional actors, the film links one series of banal events to another through long tracking shots. He pays little regard to a cohesive narrative structure and even less to developing three-dimensional characters. Reygadas asks for his audience to consider the moral dilemmas that play out in the consciousness of his characters and offers little in return for the effort.
Marcos (Marcos Hernandez) is the chauffer to Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), the daughter of a general. The only one privy to Anas secret life as a prostitute in a high class brothel, Marcos feels close enough to her to admit that a kidnapped child recently died in the care of his unnamed wife (Bertha Ruiz). After trying to calm Marcos with her body, Ana urges him to turn himself in. Marcos wife, on the other hand, pushes for the opposite in their post-coital moment of repose later that same evening. And so Marcos dilemma is played out through the rest of the film over a background of quintessential Mexican activities: the raising of the flag, a soccer match, and a religious pilgrimage.
While Battle in Heaven will surely garner praise in art-house theaters for its fine cinematography, it falls flat in every other aspect of film. Reygadas manages to capture Mexico City in its glaring contrasts of class, but his characters speak to one another in flat exchanges that reveal little of their internal struggles or their place within society. He shoots a series of graphic sex scenes devoid of eroticism and follows a loose collection of characters through intense conflicts with similar disregard. The technical merits are not enough to support the heavy issues raised by the film, and audiences will likely walk away feeling dismayed with the bookend scenes of fellatio that provide little in ways of insight to either form or theme.