BATTLE IN HEAVEN (Carlos Reygadas, 2005)

“What a fuck-up,” Marcos says to wife Berta after the baby they have kidnapped dies. Berta agrees, but she is referring to the fact that the ransom is now lost to them.
     Carlos Reygadas’s stunning Batalla en el cielo, nonprofessionally cast, unwinds in Mexico City. Chauffeur to a general, Marco is played by a man named Marco, chauffeur to Reygadas’s father. (In Reygadas’s Japón (2002), the protagonist is played by Reygadas’s father’s best friend.) Marco is infatuated with his employer’s young daughter, Ana, whom he has known since she was a child. Like Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967), Ana works as a prostitute, perhaps as a private rebuke to Pop. It is also an unintended rebuke to Marco, who must work for his scant living. Wealthy Ana play-works.
     Befitting her actual station, Ana, to whom Marco has confided his crime, counsels him to turn himself over to police. After having sexual intercourse with her, Marco instead slices her to death with blades of her daughter’s ice-skates. (After they make love, a high overhead shot of the pair lying side-by-side in bed, silently and awake, accompanied by military music, suggests the divide between them.) While Berta looks to traditional religious means for absolution, Marco is on his own.
     In a shot at dawn, a crease of sunlight shimmers down Marco’s face. A later shift in sunlight makes his eyes itch. Today’s Mexico is the sun we indirectly see—this, correlative to the unrealized promise following recent political changes.
     The film includes a good deal of graphic sex. This includes sex between Marco and his wife, both of whom are obese. Reygadas refuses to transport us to a voyeuristic state or to hold up either Marco or Berta to ridicule or, worse, smarmy sentimentality.
     Reygadas’s glorious humanism prevails.

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