Struggling to make ends meet in Mexico City, a middle-aged Mexican man named Marcos (Hernandez) and his wife kidnap a baby in order to Mi the child to ransom. But when the baby dies accidentally, Marcos suffers an existential crisis that not even the attentions of young rich girl and part-time prostitute Ana (Mushkadiz) can alleviate
Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas' follow-up to his festival favourite Japon is another provocative mix of cold aestheticism and explicit sexual content. In the Cannes Camera d'Or-winning Japon, the thirtysomething lead had intercourse with an 80 year-old woman; in the Palme d'Or-nominated Battle In Heaven, a twentysomething girl has oral sex with a much older man. In both cases the sex is graphic and the actors are non-professionals.
Reygadas' approach has courted a fair amount of controversy, and his modus operandi lays him open to accusations of sensationalism - arty wank, as it were. But there's more going on in Battle In Heaven than titillation and cheap shock tactics. Reygadas and his cinematographer Diego Martinez Vignatti have fashioned a movie that's beautiful to behold. Moreover, so elegant is the visual styling that there's no guestion of the sex (beginning with a prolonged blow-job) being a turn-on. And while that styling freezes emotional engagement with the drama to a degree, the film also holds a certain fascination in its juxtaposing of youth with age. In fact, by photographing both in the same way, Reygadas undermines the association of the former with beauty and the latter with ugliness, and that's no mean feat.
There's more to this controversial and aesthetically cold film than just its explicit sex scenes. Honest.