Saturday, May 05, 2007

CINCO DE VINYL: Negotiating Battle in Heaven

by Ryland Walker Knight


Upon its release, first at the Cannes film festival and subsequently here in America, Carlos Reygadas’ film Battle In Heaven was under imminent attack. It is a difficult film to attend to and it does nothing one has come to expect from films, even from foreign art house films. It refuses easy categorization or qualification or mediation. Even in positive reviews I read of the film there was an uneasiness, a resistance to approach the film and its imminent attack on an audience’s pre-conceived notions and perceptions of what film does, and how. I understand the resistance. What I don’t understand is the dismissal, the refusal to ask why there is a resistance, and what we are to do with that resistance. I’ve taken that route before — and been called on it — but I’m always trying to (get better and) base my reactions on some kind of aesthetic or formal judgments as well as my personal tastes. Plus, I like to think I know how to think about what a movie is doing beyond the simple dramatic elements; at bottom, when I get serious, I am a forever formalist. Battle In Heaven is a formal masterpiece. The film is so structured, so rigorous in its execution, I find it unendingly fascinating. Yet it is a difficult film to watch. At once drab and lush, bleak and optimistic, profane and divine, and despite a tendency to dwell on (and utilize) the “negative” end of those polarities, it occupies the middle ground, that space of negotiation, and this makes it a wholly beautiful master work of art. It uses those ugly tropes to negotiate, and move towards, the sublime.

Its very title alludes to that movement. It announces this will be rough, yet transcendent. The fight does not simply happen, it happens in the space it tries to negotiate, that ethereal space of the sublime we all define for ourselves: Heaven. For Reygadas, it would appear, Mexico and Mexico City are a kind of Heaven. And so is a blowjob. And a foggy valley. And the act of fixing an antenna, which by design is a means to mediate celestial waves of information.

As much as I do love the film, that affection makes the writing that much more difficult. How am I supposed to sound engaged intellectually when all I'm really doing is saying, Lookee here, this is beautiful, this is grand, this is life? In lieu of further effusive praise, and because school is kicking my butt here at the end, I’m offering some of Battle In Heaven’s more safe-for-work indelible images. All I ask is for you to look at what’s happening. And if you find yourself recoiling ask why, and how. Hopefully I’ll have more “answers” in the future.


  1. The movie it's great I really like it, this battle it;s impossible for humans to win, if this really exist or happen we will get extinted.

  2. Ppsss just mexican people do this, they are witches and spiritist and like that you know.