The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has long been one of my favorite film events of the year and while I saw a few great films in the ten days up north, I can’t help but have emerged from the setting with a rather downbeat feeling about the event. However, rather than offer up any kind of a summary here, I’m just gonna do the blog thing and mainly post shorter entries, letting my criticism fall where it may. That said, this one’s kinda long….but there’s boobies after the jump!
My first film this year was a big mistake on my part but it did provide the title to this post: Carlos Reygadas‘ Battle in Heaven. I had seen Reygadas’ critically-lauded and multiple award-winning Japón at the 2002 Rotterdam International Film Festival and didn’t care for it (its awards came after I’d seen it, FYI). It was indeed gorgeous. Reygadas and his DP Diego Martínez Vignatti created an amazing landscape of desert, canyon and human life that was astonishing to behold. Unfortunately, it was also just about as exciting as watching grass grow. Now, I’m not saying I need action films. Far from it. The Thin Red Line, George Washington, and Local Hero are among my favorite films of all time and none of them can be considered “fast-paced.” That said, Reygadas’ work makes the pace of The Thin Red Line feel like the car chase from The French Connection in comparison.
Japón was about three hours long and had about 40 pages of dialog. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood, maybe I never will be, but it made me want to drive 2 penny nails into my skull just for a little something to do. Battle in Heaven was more of the same except for a few key details. It was (mercifully) much shorter and had a bit more coherent of a story.
Let me interrupt myself, here. I have a problem with being verbose and I can be the most wordy regarding a film that I didn’t like very much but that I respect. Maybe it’s my way of convincing myself that it’s actually a good film but that I just “wasn’t in the mood.” Both of Reygadas’ films are thoughtful mediations on the state of his country and its society. Alas, its his style that just doesn’t click with me. Neither Japón nor Battle in Heaven are bad films. In fact, one might say they were brilliant cinema. However, much like Lars von Trier‘s Breaking the Waves, I simply couldn’t deal with them and likely will never be able to. However I feel the need to point out that Reygadas’ work is not nearly as brutally depressing and sadistic as some of von Trier’s work.
Book-ended by prosthetic-free fellatio (no….really), Battle in Heaven is a rather scathing indictment of the gaping class-divide that characterizes modern Mexico City but just like Japón, the dialogue was sparse and plot almost non-existent and I. JUST. COULDN’T. GET. INTO. IT. I don’t mean that as a shout but more as a frustrated whine. Maybe I should like these films, but they hurt my head. Reygadas and Vignatti are clearly artists and their work is undeniably beautiful but it makes blood come out of my ears. Metaphorically, anyway.
I fully understand why many film goers admire Reygadas’ work and it is certainly far more accomplished that most other filmmakers with only 2 features under their belts and here, my thoughts on this one end and I direct you to a colleague who appears to possess a naturally elevated level of criticism. Tom Hall is the director of programming at the Sarasota Film Festival and is one of the most natural, insightful writers I know. His take on Battle in Heaven is very well done.
Photos: Miss Toronto Tourism (the “tourism” is teeny tiny on her sash!) 2005; Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz) in Battle in Heaven