Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Agony of Ecstasy—Two Nights With Carlos Reygadas: Battle In Heaven (Batalla en el cielo, 2005)

This entry is not for the spoiler-wary!

Most of the recent press on Reygadas has concerned
Battle in Heaven. I offer my favorites: Jonathan Marlow's insightful Sundance interview with Reygadas for Dave Hudson's Greencine Daily. This interview was instrumental in my enjoying and learning from the Reygadas residency at Yerba Buena. Kudos, Jonathan!!

Michael Atkinson for the Village Voice: "Battle in Heaven, as ambitious as its title, is a living mystery, already notorious for hardcore-osity but so serious about its formal intelligence and so deep-dish in its evocations of inexpressible desolation, personal and social, that it occupies your skull like a siege of Huns."

Karin Badt, Cannes 2005,
Bright Lights Film Journal: "The important thing is these two human beings. Just watch them and be patient. Cinema is a means of expression, not communication. I don't want to say anything. When you kiss someone, are you trying to communicate anything?"

Bryant Frazer, Deep Focus: "The film's explicitness is crucial to its meaning. By dwelling on both types of bodies—the trim and conventionally beautiful versus the flabby and utterly ordinary—Reygadas emphasizes both physical closeness and economic distance. He seems less interested in bodies in the erotic sense than in the way that they can be indicators of class—in the sense that body shapes are influenced by economics, because the folks without the money to dine well end up feasting on junk instead, which sticks to their figures."

Antonio Pasolini, "Of course, there is love in this film as well as manipulation. There's also injustice regarding the bad distribution of tools. Injustices from the system, not just from nature itself."

Nick Roddick /
FIPRESCI 2005: "[I]t's easier to connect the fact that you have breakfast in the morning and then you go to work afterwards than to connect that you dream one night about fire in the sky and that you go to work the next day."

Aquarello at Strictly Film School: "Reygadas' bracing portrait of Mexico's profoundly fractured and polarized--and perhaps irredeemable--society, human connection occurs not through the opacity of the soul but through the characters' disembodied rituals that serve as communion for unarticulated desire."

Here's a good
video clip interview with Reygadas at Cannes:

* * *
Delighted with Japón, I was hyped for Battle In Heaven. All in all, Battle was not as satisfying for me as Japón, though it has certainly hovered around me like some unresolved thought. What truly bothered me about Battle was the idea that this young woman Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz) could confess her shadow to Marcos (Marcos Hernández), her chauffeur since childhood, and even make him complicit through secrecy and sexual favors, but when he confesses his shadow to her, a line gets crossed. An equality is denied. Ana encourages Marcos to turn himself in knowing full well that he will be put away, possibly even executed. She wants to dispense with the distasteful. This betrayal adds weight to an already almost unbearable burden and, Marcos, terrified in the face of truth, pees his pants and murders her. If ever someone has been swept up by the horrors of circumstance into ignoble death it is Marcos in Battle in Heaven.

The sound design in this movie accomplishes what the narrative shifting did in Japón. In one particularly stunning sequence Marcos is at a gas station where loud music is being played. A procession of chanting penitents winds by and the sound shifts from the loud music to the chanting, builds, then recedes back to the loud music. A moment where you hear as well as see two realities.

In another notorious scene where Marcos and Ana are having sex, the camera moves out of the room and circles the courtyard before coming back in. When asked about which directors had influenced him, Reygadas did not mention Hitchcock so this is undoubtedly my complete projection; but, this scene reminded me of the one in Frenzy where just as the necktie murderer is about to rape and kill another victim, the camera pulls away from the scene of the crime, backs down the hallway and stairwell through the front landing, down the front steps, and across the street. In Frenzy, however, if the camera had returned, the crime would have been evident. Not so in Battle, where the camera does return, and the crime is obscured. Notwithstanding, the punishment remains severe.

02/20/06 UPDATE: What goes around, comes around. After convincing me that non-actors should embody their roles and not represent them, Carlos Reygadas reminded himself as well as those present that this is not as easily done as it sounds. In Battle In Heaven Magdalena Flores—Ascen in his first film Japón—makes a cameo appearance. Reygadas was excited at first about including Magdalena in his second film, but, realized afterwards that it was a mistake as the taint of recognized celebrity had already taken. I had to agree and told him that, as pleased as I was to see her again, it distracted from the film. Amazing how quickly this happens!!

02/26/06 UPDATE: At the L.A. Weekly Scott Foundas interprets the opening blowjob of Battle In Heaven to be a dream sequence. I didn't see it that way at all and wonder if Reygadas intended it as such? Unfortunately Reygadas's residency at Yerba Buena has come and gone and he's not around to ask. I always regret the unvoiced unanswered questions! Foundas ventures: "If Japón was Reygadas' objet d'art, then Battle is his objet de scandale, his elephant-dung Jesus . . . ."

01/27/07 UPDATE: A shout out to Rob Davis who recently interviewed (or should I say recently posted his interview with) Carlos Reygadas for
Errata. Not only does this fascinating interview delve into the director's filmmaking subjectivity of sound and image, his use of non-actors, and some of his favorite filmmakers, but provides an up-to-date compendium of recent online commentary on Reygadas sophomore feature Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo, 2005).