Interview with Carlos Reygadas
Was there a more maligned work at Cannes 2005 than Carlos Reygadas' Battle in Heaven? This Bunuel-tainted tale of a bungled kidnapping in Mexico City not only alienated Reygadas's fellow Mexican reviewers and filmmakers but grossed out many American critics.
"It's one of the best films at Cannes," I argued with my revolted US peers. They'd been turned off by Reygadas's graphic, unseemly sex scenes. An unhappy, mechanical blow job is ministered by a hot senorita, Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), on her numb, big-bellied chaffeur, Marcos (Marcos Hernandez). Later, the homely Marcos screws at length his extremely overweight esposa. "Exploitation!" said the Americans. But the Mexicans at Cannes were more perturbed by Reygadas's attitude toward his native country. "I don't deny his visual intution," Leonardo Garcia Tsao, a Mexican critic recently told the New York Times, "but his contempt for Mexicans in general--low or high class--nullifies any idea of a social critique."
At the Battle in Heaven press conference at Cannes, Reygadas, who lives mostly in Spain, did nothing to placate the Latin American press in the room. "When I make a film, when I watch a film, I feel closer to Greek cinema, or Japanese cinema, than to Latin American cinema, " he said. Also, he dismissed accusations that he'd exploited Marcos Hernandez, who'd been a chaffeur in real life for the filmmaker's father. Reygadas said, "I've known Marcos for fifteen years, and I like the way he is, the way he acts, the way he speaks. He worked in the Ministry of Culture, and we played basketball together. He's rather special, but at the same time he embodies a universal idea. Based on knowing him, I wrote a screenplay. No professional actors, please! Then Anapola came along. I preferred the real person to a person of acting technique."
"I'm a normal, silly girl," Mushkadiz explained. "I like doing plastic arts. I paint, I love doing pretty pictures. I went to a casting because Carlos really wanted to meet me. I never asked to be an actress, but here I am!"
But how could Reygadas put the obese, flabby-bodied Hernandez into bare-all sexual scenes? Including being orally serviced by Mushkadiz? "There's a kind of mask, except with the body," Reygdas said. "The way to know people is through their bodies People making love, things happen when they make love. How do they communicate? I love the Rubens-style paintings, and Marcos is like a Rubens, quite beautiful. But fat people making love, that's not my object. And this is not a sexual film, a porn film. In porn, there's fellatio aimed at sexual excitement. Here, when you see the girl [performing oral sex], she looks into the camera and cries."
I've been writing with pleasure about the talented Newton documentarian, Irene Lusztig, since her Harvard undergrad days. For Beijing With Love and Squalor (1998) showed rock'n'roll slackers in the bowels of China's capital, and Reconstruction ( 2002) uncovered Lusztig's bankrobber grandmother, enemy of the Rumanian Communist Party. She's globe-hopping again past the ex-Iron Curtain in The Samantha Smith Project, at the MFA March 12. In 1983, young Samantha, pacifist American, visited Communist Russia as guest of Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, cheerily promoted peace and friendship between the Cold War countries. Twenty years later, post-Communism, Lusztig travels to Moscow, and finds that Russian-American relationships have deteriorated completely. Russians she encounters are fed up with know-it-all Americans. Not only do they not want to" live free" in the USA, it's the last place on earth they'd consider to visit.
(Boston Phoenix, March, 2006)