By Ed Koch
Battle in Heaven (-)
This is a truly outrageous film, degrading to women and disgusting to men. If it had been made 35 or 40 years ago, I believe the distributors would have been arrested as pornographers for the indecent sex scenes on the screen.
The three principals are Marcos (Marcos Hernandez), his wife (Bertha Ruiz), and his mistress, Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz). Marcos and his wife are so fat and disproportionate in body build that they resemble the sculptures of the Latin American artist Botero that were displayed on Park Avenue a number of years ago. As sculptures, they were divine; as real bodies, they are crude, gross, obese, obscene and a total turn-off when it comes to sex. The intimate scenes between the obese couple are almost painful to watch, even to the point of nausea.
I went to see the movie after reading The New York Times review by Manohla Dargis who wrote, At once unmoored and ruthlessly calculating, the Mexican film Battle in Heaven has everything for everyone or perhaps nothing at all. Among the attractions are sex, class, God, soccer, an ugly man, a beautiful woman, a dead baby, the dirt below them and the wide sky above. The film was written and directed by Carlos Reygadas, who after making a sensational feature debut four years ago with Japon has returned with a strangely mesmerizing and off-putting follow-up that finds him at the crossroads between inspiration and risky self-parody.
The location is Mexico. The story held my attention but made little sense. The script includes an unexplained kidnapping, a house of prostitution, a religious tableau with penitents visiting a cathedral, and a bloody killing. When leaving the theater, I asked a senior couple what they thought. He said, I lived in Mexico most of my life, and this was Mexico as I saw it every day. I loved the movie. She said, I hated it. I agree with her.
I never thought a movie could make coupling distasteful, but this film does. It is porn with pretension, religion trashing, and it appears to excuse kidnapping and accept prostitution. The film is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Because the subtitles are printed in white lettering against a light background, they are often indecipherable.