Still from Batalla en el cielo.
Yesterday evening, I saw for the first time “Batalla en el cielo” (Battle in heaven) a film by Mexican Director Carlos Reygadas made in 2006. Reygadas was a student of international law, specialising in “armed conflicts”, but decided to take up film making.
The film has a raw existential quality which is contrasted with a very carefully constructed visual language reminiscent of Robert Bresson in some ways but impregnated with the almost surreal reality of urban Mexico. There is no fabrication in the cinema of Reygadas; no sets, no professional actors (as in the cinema of Bresson, Pasolini and others), nothing false and no spectacle. Reygadas uses the raw material of reality itself, Mexican reality, but not as a realist. Reality, under the cinematic gaze, undergoes a transformation, a transfiguration and acquires new meanings in an increasingly dreamlike world. Reygadas has said that he wants to show the inner life of the characters in his films not through the use of actors and conventional acting “skills” but through the cinematic process itself which is used to present and emphasize the physicality of the characters and how they experience things physically. The environments in which the characters move are of equal importance and are an extension of their inner states. The plot or story is of secondary importance, a typical feature of today’s dominant commercial cinema according to Reygadas.
This film has been controversial, mostly because there are numerous explicit sex scenes. The sex is not simulated either but real. Reygadas insists that he wishes to portray sex in the same way as eating or other everyday activities. Consequently, it is stripped of any glamour or pornographic intentions. Sex as provocation is usually a facile endeavour, and though here it does have a certain logic as a ritual of communion, it remains a problematic element. Everything in this film becomes part of the cinematic texture: one scene in particular is memorable, through a window we see Ana the female protagonist straddled over Marcos, the male protagonist, engaged in the sexual act. The camera then moves slowly away and begins a 360-degree pan revealing the urban landscape, rooftops, aerials, terraces etc…finally the camera returns to the window through which we see them both again, lying on the bed after the sexual act. It is difficult to say why but there is great tension in this moment of the film. Cars, traffic jams, the metro, buildings, interiors, faces, bodies, landscapes, the Mexican national flag, a catholic pilgrimage through city streets, the Our Lady of Guadalupe basilica etc are all part of the dense fabric that is Mexico city and which through a style of contrast reflect the fractured nature of Mexican society and experience.
An interview can be found here (in spanish) with the director.