Battle in Heaven Carlos Reygadas

I have no idea how to reckon with the torrent of bizarre imagery that is Battle in Heaven. Ostensibly a cri de coeur for director Carlos Reygadas’ native Mexico, it offers some of the most puerile and arresting imagery since the days of Ken Russell.

Battle in Heaven lays its cards on the table in the prologue, in which a portly-, dumpy-looking man is fellated by a painfully beautiful young woman; the man turns out to be a chauffeur who’s kidnapped and ransomed a baby only to have the kid die on him. Did I mention that he’s the driver for the girl, who’s the daughter of a general and gets her kicks by working in a brothel? And that the driver has the hots for the general’s daughter, and finally has her in an astoundingly graphic sex scene?

There’s some facile stuff going on her about the haves and have-nots, with the gorgeous girl standing in for everything the underclass has found unattainable and maybe everything the director ever yearned for in high school. I can’t say that its class analysis is terribly nuanced, but it makes up for this by being a cinematic tour-de-force, combining the most rigorous moments of Bresson and Godard with an agonised carnality that harkens back to Bruno Dumont.

Whatever its referents, you’re not likely to forget any of its military flag-raisings, sweaty sexual encounters, balls-to-the-wall frankness and images of disappointed desperation. Had it something substantial to say, it might have been a landmark, but even with its compromised, confused POV it’s striking, audacious and almost certain to be a top-ten contender for end of year honours. Go in with no expectations, and prepare to have your mind blown. (Ultra 8)