Battle In Heaven raised hackles as it made the rounds of the 2005 festival circuit – in a moment that's become a minor legend, the film was hastily pulled from a scheduled Sundance screening at a high school gymnasium when officials learned of its graphic, unflinching depiction of sexuality. Those arriving at Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas' sophomore film expecting a salacious thriller may well be disappointed, as Reygadas is less interested in complicated narratives and more fascinated with sustaining a palpable atmosphere, via austere, Kubrickian compositions.
Armed with a dispassionate eye, as he was in his wholly amazing debut, 2002's Japón, Reygadas' Battle In Heaven is a scathing commentary about modern day Mexico grafted onto a deceptively simple, straightforward plot: Marcos (Marcos Hernandez) and his wife (Bertha Ruiz) kidnap an infant and hold it for ransom, but their plan goes tragically awry when the baby unexpectedly dies. Meanwhile, Marcos' day job is chaperoning a general's daughter, Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), who whores herself out as a form of amusement – in an unguarded, weak moment, Marcos breaks down and confesses to Ana what he's done, forcing the pair into a tenuous, erotically charged relationship which builds to a poignant, haunting climax.
To give away more would spoil what Reygadas (who also penned the film's screenplay) and his actors have wrought; the delights in Battle In Heaven come in the journey, not necessarily the destination. Long takes, verite cinematography and reliance upon non-professional actors gives Battle In Heaven a peculiar power – lingering upon the ordinary, unremarkable face of Hernandez or dwelling upon the stark mechanics of sex give new life to seemingly mundane imagery. Patience is required and those who want tits, ass and a coherent, connect-the-dots story should look elsewhere. Battle In Heaven is a subtle work of art, a minor masterpiece of tone and mood that slips under your skin and stays there. The DVD
Heartbreakingly, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of such visually driven material isn't really up to snuff; at times, Battle In Heaven looks like a PAL-to-NTSC port. Washed out, blown out and suffering from the faintest hint of ghosting, this Region 1 DVD doesn't do justice to Reygadas' splendid compositions. The Audio:
Two flavors of surround are here: a Dolby Digital 5.1 and a DTS 5.1 track. The DTS track has a slight edge over the Dolby Digital in terms of warmth and clarity, but either soundtrack helps fully realize the dense sonic environment of Reygadas' film. A Dolby 2.0 stereo track and optional English subtitles are also on board. The Extras:
The supplemental material isn't extensive, but what's included is worth sifting through: director Reygadas and actress Mushkadiz sit for a fairly revealing interview, presented in full-screen and running for 33 minutes. The film's theatrical trailer, offered in non-anamorphic widescreen, is included, as are five excerpts from Reygadas' debut Japón and trailers for Anatomy of Hell, Suspicious River and 9 Songs. Final Thoughts:
Battle In Heaven is a film that peers into its characters' souls, revealing their wounded depths. Spiking a casually observed narrative with potent doses of graphic sexuality charges Carlos Reygadas' sophomore outing with tangible electricity, making this an unforgettable cinematic experience, a haunting excursion into modern Mexico. Recommended.