By turns explicit and elusive, Battle In Heaven is one of 2005's most challenging and controversial films. But while it's the graphic sex in Carlos Reygadas' urban drama that has grabbed headlines, this ultimately emerges as more than just a flesh-fest. Vividly shot on the streets of Mexico City, it offers a unique examination of guilt that revolves around the tubby, taciturn but curiously moving figure of chauffeur and part-time child kidnapper Marcos (Marcos Hernández).
When we first meet Marcos, he's being, ahem, orally pleasured by a twentysomething woman. This, it turns out, is Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), the prostitute daughter of the general who employs Marcos. We also learn that the protagonist and his equally rotund missus (Berta Ruiz) were holding to ransom a friend's baby that has just died. After Marcos confesses all to Ana, his wife insists that she be taken care of...
As urgent as all this sounds, Battle In Heaven is not a picture driven by plot or pace. It's more to do with mood, place and character (although in the case of the latter, Reygadas often keeps us at a frustrating distance, revealing more of his non-professional cast's bodies than he does of their characters' souls). Nevertheless, the film's cumulative power is undeniable. Inventive throughout, Reygadas' imagery becomes breathtaking in the closing scenes of religious pilgrimage, where Marco's existential crisis is brought to a harrowing head. While the movie's meaning may seem as foggy as the hills Hernandez climbs, its creator's skill is clearly remarkable.
In Spanish with English subtitles.