Aimless activity in Mexico City

January 2006 -

Marcos is a chauffeur in Mexico City. One day, he kidnaps a baby. He wants to give himself up but decides instead to atone for his sins by going on a pilgrimage, shuffling along on his knees. That’s more or less the entire plot of Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo). What you do get to see are static images and long-winded scenes in which nothing happens: Marcos and his wife next to each other, keeping a lookout at their little booth in the underground station hall, Marcos driving round aimlessly in a suburb as he chauffeurs a general’s daughter around, the ritual of running up and lowering flags in the city’s huge Zócalo square.

Batalla en el Cielo

Still from Batalla en el Cielo

The sex scenes, which leave nothing to the imagination, may stir cinemagoers out of their lethargic experience of watching this film, with the sex scene between Marcos and his wife appearing to be director Carlos Reygadas’s way of saying that he can also create a tender and erotic bed scene with people who are rather old and fat and positively unattractive, with the contrast with Marcos’s fling with the slim, young general’s daughter supposedly giving the latter scenes an erotic charge. However, Reygadas has even drained all the emotion and excitement from the sex scenes, thus rendering them repellent and ugly in their coldness.

Battle in Heaven drags itself along exasperatingly slowly, with not even the unexpected dénouement touching the viewer. The gory climax arouses nothing more than amazement or even total incomprehension. Finally, the film ends with the same close-up used for the opening shot: Marco and his young lover. However, this time he smiles, for the first time in the entire film. Clearly something has happened to him. It’s just that we have no idea at all what precisely has happened, why it has happened, and in particular what Reygados’s message in all this is.

Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo) by Carlos Reygadas premieres in the Netherlands at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which is being held from 25 January to 5 February. The film has been selected by and is supported by the Hubert Bals Fund.