Sunday, January 30, 2011

Carlos Reygadas : Films, Influence, Image and Sound - A Critical Essay

     Carlos Reygadas, the Mexican filmmaker, made his presence felt in the world cinema, by his very first feature "Japon", a haunting piece of minimalist filmmaking. Born in a well -to -do Mexican family, he studied international law and specialized in Armed Conflicts and served overseas. He was a keen sportsman too and represented Mexican national team in Rugby. Having developed an avid interest in meaningful cinema, he honed his filmic passion by watching masterpieces of Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson, Roberto Rossellini, Werner Herzog, Michaelangelo Antonioni and Carl Dreyer. During his stint in the foreign office he realized the futility of his service. "It was so pathetic," he says, "They did a great favour to me because I decided to change my life." He turned to his great love, cinema.
Carlos Reygadas

      Japon received a special mention for the Camera d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. His next feature Battle in Heaven competed for the Palm d'Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. In 2007, Reygadas filmed Silent Light, which went on to win the Jury Prize at Cannes.

     With three features under his belt, Reygadas has emerged as a full fledged member of a new wave of successful young Mexican filmmakers, along with Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Now he is one of the most prominent directors in world cinema. The critical analysis of his body of work seems to confluence in several aspects : his films delve in the realm of metphysicality, his style and content has been influenced by the legends of European cinema, yet by his deviation from these very influences, innovative use of sound and image and his keenness for topographical details, both macro and micro of nature and human body, he has developed a distinct oeuvre of his own.

     Japon (2002)

     Japon was shot entirely on location in Ayacatzintla, a remote village of less than 170 inhabitants. it tells the story of a middle-aged , unnamed man, probably an artist, who's in an existential crisis. He leaves his town on a journey to this remote village, amidst a rugged canyon, a place where he used to go on vacation as a child with his family. The self-condemned man seeks lodging and encounters Ascen, an old widow with countenance as corroded as a canyon and demeanour as humble as a saint, who agrees to shelter him in the smouldering stone barn attached to her dilapidated house overlooking the canyon.

     The film unfolds in a languid pace showing both of them carrying on their daily chores. The man having breakfast at Ascen's house, climbing up and down the hills, listening to Bach, smoking marijuana. Ascen washing her clothes, making his bed, cleaning up his house and making iced tea to quench his thirst. But even in these quotidian activities a silent bond unknowingly grows between them. These lengthy scenes of the man's solitary wanderings, in addition to reflecting his existential dilemma, produce a sense of delay in the film and undermine the narrative momentum, as it postpones his anticipitated suicide.

      As the man keeps wandering about, amidst the harsh nature, interacts with her, he begins to question his idea of committing suicide and finds himself with a strong sexual desire in need of satisfaction. Although dialogue is sparse, and more is conveyed by sound and images, a key exchange of words do take place between the two protagonists.

     The Man: The best things in life can't be bought, right?
     Ascen     : I really couldn't say...First explain why you came to this place?
     The Man: To be calm ... But it isn't just that. Much serenity is necessary to be left behind. The thing we're used to and don't really like anymore, we must learn to dispose off what's useless.
      Ascen    : But it's better to fix things than throw them out.
     The Man : Sure, but certain things can't be fixed. Disposing of them is better than clinging on to them out of habit.
     Ascen     : I think I understand, Sir...But you know, Sir even though I don't like my sick, old arms. I wouldn’t chop them off.
    The Man : Sure, I get you.

     In her inimicable way, Ascen teaches the man the value of life. To get back his serenity, he requires, to curb his instincts, especially sexual instincts, which is already aroused (as we see him masturbating and imagining Ascen kissing an unknown young woman earlier) and therefore he proposes to Ascen for sexual intercourse.


     The depiction of Ascen in the film repeatedly evokes the figure of Jesus Christ. When she first appears in the film, Ascen emphatically tells the man that her name is Ascension, which means "Christ ascending into heaven with nobody's help." Ascen's simplicity and goodness, attributes associated with saintliness, also embodies the man's salvation. She accepts the proposal. The only plausible explanation foe her accepting to have sex with the man would be her desire to endow the man with the appeasement he seeks, which further reinforces her saintliness.

     The film ends with her mysterious death following a railway accident which follows up her sexual encounter with the man. Like Jesus, Ascen dies in order to save the man's soul. The film leaves in suspension whether the man will now commit his planned suicide as he sobs while learning about the accident.

     Japon is ultimately about redemption and conquering one's nature. It's about uncharted spiritual love. Japon doesn't refer to a place, but to the distance one must travel to find peace of mind.

     Battle in Heaven (2005)

     In "Battle in Heaven" Carlos Reygadas depicts the struggle of a man called Marcos, within himself as he falls into a maelstrom of crime and guilt and externally with his class struggle with Ana, the general's daughter.

     Marcos is an obese native Mexican Indian, who works as a driver to a general, in addition to working as a security guard at a military fort where his duties include being part of the ceremonial cadre who raises and lowers the national flag. For Marcos, the drudgery of daily ritual has come to define his very existence. Even his employment as a driver involves a certain mundaneness of predictability, often chauffeuring Ana to her boyfriend's apartment or a clandestine brothel, where she works as a part-time prostitute.
     Regadas takes an incisive, searing look at the inherent hypocrisies of Mexico's social structures. Marcos aspires for a better life for his family. Desperate, the couple kidnap an infant child for ransom. When the baby dies, the crime adds a crushing burden to his conscience. As the film unfolds against the backdrop of the Virgin of Guadalupe week in Mexico City, Marcos' spiritual turmoil becomes increasingly visible. He undergoes a change in his attitude towards religion. At first, he seems to embody disbelief in it. This is what happens as we see Marcos commenting, "They are all a flock of sheep," when he sees a religious procession at a gas station. But as time passes, the burden of the criminal deed makes him rethink his stand on religion and ritualism. The growing weight of spirituality in his life is underlined in the sequence in which he walks alone in the countryside amidst mists and clouds, ultimately reaching the hilltop with crosses entrenched. Finally, he performs penance by embarking on a flagellation ritual, collapsing dead inside the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Marcus inflagellation ritual

     With de-dramatized, provocative and surreal imagery Reygadas explores the Class struggle of Marcos and Ana. The two confides their darkest secrets in one another. Ana and Marcos' story is of love and passion between two unequal individuals and also of manipulation and betrayal. Ana would confess her darkest secrets to Marcos and even make him complicit through secrecy and sexual favours, but when he confesses his crime to her, the Rubicon gets crossed. Equality is aspired but denied. Ana encourages Marcos to turn himself in knowing fully well that he may be executed. She now wants to dispose with the unwanted. This betrayal adds weight to the albatross already hanging around his neck and, Marcos shocked in the face of stark reality, murders her.

    This uncompromising, yet un-mistakenly humanistic film paints a canvass of the irredeemable and fractured Mexican society and Marcos' titanic struggle to redeem himself using the ritualism as a path to transcendence.

     Silent Light (2007)

     It's a timeless tale of love, betrayal, desire and sacrifice set within a remote Mennonite community in northern Mexico. Drawing loose inspiration from Dreyer's "Ordet" it revolves around a miracle, where a woman's love for her man and grief for his conjugal partner saves a turbulent marriage. The film does not dwell on religion but the Mennonite world is. Religion remains in the backdrop; in the foreground is love between individuals, lovers, husbands, wives, sons and parents. What Reygadas achieves is to nudge the viewer to perceive an all encompassing, mystical universe, enveloped in love in which we form miniscule inconsequential atoms.

     Johan, a farmer with seven children and a devoted wife, Esther, has fallen in love with another woman, Marianne. Johan is torn apart by his moral dilemma. While the tenets of his faith strictly forbid adultery, his lust and passion for Marianne overcomes his ethical moorings. He confesses his strayed ventures to Esther, his friend Zacarius and also to his father, who warned him that it "is the work of the enemy". Nonetheless, his shame is insufficient to tame his desires. In the meantime, Esther suffers silently and awaits her husband to realise his mistake and grapple with the crisis on his own. And so, while Esther waits on the sidelines of their life with her unquiet eyes, tending to children, keeping the house and harvesting crop, Johan goes through the self-created crisis of faith and faithfulness.

Johan and Marianne
     Johan and Marianne in their last sexual rendezvous (they have decided to separate unable to cope with the situation anymore), predicts the impending doom.

      Marianne : Peace is stronger than love...Poor Esther.
      Johan      : I'm afraid there's more pain yet to come, but then there will be peace and afterwards, a happiness like we've never known.

     In the most touching scene, Esther dies of Grief, drenched by torrential rain. Johan carries her dead body in the downpour to his truck, sobbing profusely. From here on the journey of Johan's grief unfolds. In the final scene, where Reygadas replicates "Ordet". the miracle that happens when Marianne kisses Esther on her lips, is less an act of faith that is more a fairy tale ending.

Ultimately, it is a contemplative cinema about transgression, regret and comprehension of human fallibility. "Silent Light" though is an allusion to love, remains silent on passing judgements. It does not judge the moral and ethical transgressions of the protagonists but lets, in a detached kind of way, the silent awareness of their acts and lives seep into you.

     Canonical Influences

     Carlos Reygadas was influenced by the works of the great masters of European cinema, particularly, Tarkovsky, Bresson, Dreyer, Antonioni and Rossellini. These cinematic influences are admitted by Reygadas himself "I like Roberto Rossellini very much, and the condition in which he had to shoot with whatever was there. Rossellini was a master at using the world as it is to create everything he needed for his stories. For me Dreyer is also great. Ordet (1954) is one of the most moving films I've ever seen in my life, a miracle of a film. Bresson is also a master, especially in the way he works with non-actors and uses sound. A Man Escaped (1956) is a personal favourite. Tarkovsky was the one to really open my eyes. When I saw his films I realized that emotion could come directly out of the sound and the image, and not necessarily from the story-telling.....In my opinion he's (Antonioni) the greatest filmmaker. "

     The realist techniques used by these auteurs are commonly seen in Reygadas' films. Firstly, his preference for non-professional actors. In all of his films the actors are amateurs, often local rustic people, as in Japon or Mennonites as in Silent Light. Even the main protagonists in Battle in Heaven are all non-actors. Reygadas is not interested in people representing something else apart from what they are, not even the role in the film. He just wants their presence and that's all. There should be no obstacle between the actual individual and the camera. And this was exactly the idea of Bresson, who said, "....acting was an obstacle between the actual individual and the camera."

     Bresson called his non-professional actors models and he wanted them to be neutral, pure and emotionless. For this, he would make his models repeat rehearsals multiple times, till they were exhausted and bereft of emotions. He would build the emotions with sound and images.

     However, Reygadas differed from Bresson in application of this principle, In the strictest sense, Reygadas' actors are not models because he doesn't model/tutor them at all. He wants his actors to give their true nature. Reygadas explains, "When you put a known face in front of the camera, you're contributing to the grand delusion of cinema. If you imagine this film (Silent Light) with Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman in the central roles, you would destroy it. You would instantly know you're watching Brad Pitt and Nicole Kidman dressed as bloody Mennonites. It's not that I'm hard man to please. It's just that I don't like the whole circus, these people being recycled. To me, cinema is a fancy dress party." He has horrors for pretence and the technique of acting, preferring his cast to simply "be" - hence his decision to use non-professionals. He utters: "What I don't like about the theatre is the fact that the actors are representing roles....Theatre is interesting as a catharsis for actors because it's the only way you can be idiotic and get away with it." He distanced himself from the theatrical mode of film-making, which is the commonest practice in vogue in mainstream cinema.

     Carlos Reygadas defining principle is as he says, "Letting cinema construct the characters rather than actors constructing characters." The method that he employs is carefully and intuitively choosing the actors and building up a very good interaction and profound rapport with them. For these non-actors to deliver they need to blindly trust the director. He does not give psychological information to his actors, just give them practical, spatial, temporal information and then letting the editing and the whole of the cinematic process construct the characters. That's why he doesn't allow them to read any script and only gives a brief outline of the plot. Nor does he do any rehearsal or give them any psychological background of the characters. He trusts his actors to be just themselves. That's why he doesn't want them to express emotions. He thinks that a stronger kind of emotion can pass through if they don't emote. The meticulous methods employed by Reygadas are the result of a firm belief in the immersive power of cinema. Reygadas opines, "The most powerful quality of cinema is that the senses receive it as if it were real life. For me, that illusion is just wonderful."

     Perhaps the director who has greatest impact on Reygadas is Andrei Tarkovsky. Reygadas muses, "But of course Tarkovsky was very important to me. I mean he is a person that I will always love everything - every shot he did - He touched me very deeply and he has given me energy to want to do things." Like Tarkovsky he felt cinema is not about telling a story. Reygadas expounds, "Narrative for me is just a vehicle that is probably an evil but a necessary evil. You do need a story but I don't care about the story. So I really feel much closer to painting or music where narrative is not important." So, that's why in Battle in Heaven, Marcos' kidnapping or the suicide of the self-condemned man in Japon or Johan's unfaithfulness in Silent Light is not the central issue, but the core theme is exploring spirituality, the sublime through the internal struggle of men suffering existential crisis. And that is the most powerful thing one can try to do with cinema. It's contemplation primarily as a means to a deeper form of entertainment.

     Not only he admits to be a fan of Tarkovsky alone, but also great Russian film-makers like Dovzhenko and Sukharov. He questions the notion of popular cinema as he utters, "I really think most of what we call cinema is not cinema. It's really film theatre, or even worse, illustrated literature. The object of the film is story, the characters are just technical people representing something. Most cinema is comic books. In my opinion that is not real cinema. Real cinema is much closer to music. Music doesn't represent anything; it is just something that will convey feelings."

     In Japon, the austere pace, man in existential crisis, religious iconography 360 degree pans recall Tarkovsky maserpiece Andrei Rublev. The spiritual stuggle of Marcos, leading to his death in flagellation ritual reminds us of Tarkovsky's Nostalghia. In Battle in Heaven, when Marcos embarks on a mountain walk, makes his way into the woods and recedes from the camera in the thick canopy of fog, the hypnotic imagery is transcendent; when he crawls on his knees at a religious pilgrimage, the picture portrayed is typically Bressonian in its concept of rituals as a path for metaphisicality and the impact is harrowing. The slow-burning result may feel elusive, but they're also genuinely searching, stretching and contemplative.

     In Silent Light, in one of the most poignant image of the film, Johan's family idles around a community bathing pool. As some of the children drift languorously in the water, the parents endearingly engage in the washing up of the children. This sensuous yet gorgeous scene is a visual delight which strums a chord in our heart. Reygadas distinctly gives a Tarkovskinian touch over here, as he captures the magical, inconsequential, fleeting and tender moments of life that goes unnoticed in our life.

     Certainly, in Japon, the equation of sexual intercourse between the man and Ascen with spiritual salvation seems to have been lifted from Tarkovsky's Offret. Japon's nod to this film is evident in Reygadas' use of the same extractof Bach, featured at the end of Offret. The visual composition of one of its first scenes is also evocative of Offret's opening sequence as we see the man with a child by an enormous tree. Alexander ends up having sex with his maid-servant Maria as a means to rediscover his spirituality. But whereas Tarkovsky is more careful to tone the sexual act in the scene so as to heighten its symbolic significance, Reygadas delves into the materiality of flesh to focus on naturalism.

     Reygadas' preference for parsimonious long takes, languid pace, open landscapes with the crops swaying in the breeze, horses and religious music evoke the hallmarks of Tarkovsky's cinema. His use of real locations, religious procession can be seen reminiscent of Rossellini's films. One need to consider, for instance, the scenes of religious procession in both Rossellini's Voyage in Italy and Reygadas's Battle in Heaven. The harshness and rugged cruelty of the landscape in Japon reminds us of Werner Herzog. A thematic similarity can be drawn in the internal crisis of men contemplating suicide in both Japon and Abbas Kiarostami's A Taste of Cherry.

     Carlos Reygadas admits that Silent Light is a tribute to Ordet. Reygadas' movie takes Carl Dreyer's stoic religious parable and blends it with a tale of infidelity amongst the most religious and devoted people, the Mennonites. Silent Light is a rhapsodic, elemental fairy tale. Dreyer's style and narrative sense hang over Silent Light in many aspects. Johan's name alludes to the character of Johannes in Ordet; the scene of Johan's father symbolically restarting the clock echoes the exact same gesture performed by Anders in Ordet's final scene; the sequence of Esther's funeral in which community mourns her death by singing religious songs, sipping tea, all draws similarity between the two films. It is the sequence of Esther's dead body in the coffin and the ensuing miracle that bridges the two works. Reygadas ensures that the visual composition of this scene is almost identical to that of Ordet's most famous shot. Silent Light reproduce the positioning of the coffin at the centre of the screen between two tall candle sticks and Dreyer's celebrated "milky whiteness" by shooting in a fully white room.

     Though Silent Light is an extended homage to Dreyer's classic Ordet, but the differences are telling as well. Both films are set in isolation among the religiously devout, and both end with a moment of divine grace. But whereas Dreyer's world is narrow, stoic, suffocating and punishingly austere, Reygadas proves himself a sensualist. Ordet's fundamentally religious plot, its emphasis in the power of faith, its endorsement of a Christian theology, are entirely absent in Silent Light. Whereas though religion is present in Reygadas' film, it figures as the backdrop against which the tale of love and betrayal unfolds. It is the paradoxical mundanity of an adultery tale told in an orthodox religious community that makes the film's originality. Unlike Ordet, nowhere is the characters' belief in God or their faith in religion put to test, the film is unconcerned with the questions. Moreover, the so called miracle which apparently happens when Marianne kisses Esther on her lips seems less like an act of faith but more like an act of love, a fairy tale - taken from the pages of "Sleeping Beauty".

     His affinity with these film canons is equally verifiable in the themes running through his works. Like a considerable part of the work of these "transcendental" film-makers, Reygadas' films have religion at their core. Yet, exactly how close is Reygadas to the spiritual link drawn through physicality by these directors? Does Reygadas attempt to replicate the spiritual and moral thrust of these directors? Reygadas' films deals with a "surplus of materiality". Often the physicality which should act as the gateway to the metaphysical realm, itself becomes the focus of detailed attention.

     Subjectivity of Image and Sound

     Carlos Reygadas, influenced by the works of Tarkovsky, Bresson and Antonioni realized the magical power of visuals and soundtrack to enhance the emotions and connect to the transcendental, beyond the narrative plot. In fact, by his own admission, he inspite of seeing Nostalghia 15 times hardly remembers the plot of the movie, but the audio-visual beauty of each and every shot had a lasting impression on him. Amongst the American directors, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and Terrence Malick used sight and sound with a telling effect. Surely, Reygadas is influenced by them as well.

     In Silent Light Reygadas bookends his film with mesmerizing slowly panning images of a sunrise and a sunset that each lasted for about six minutes. In the film's transporting opening sequence the camera traces a downward arc against a nearly pitch-black sky dotted with starry pinpricks as eerie cacophony of crickets, bellowing of cows and occasional bird call fill the soundtrack. As the sky slowly lightens, the camera descends close to the ground, whereupon it slowly moves forward towards a canopy of trees and the softly greying sky is cut across with a slash of blood red streak across the horizon. The camera pans beyond the silhouette of trees into a clearing that effectively becomes the stage of the ensuing human drama. Once the final shot reverses the opening, travelling through dusk onto a starry night sky, the primordial, enduring and haunting image takes us through a meditative trance from the close quarters of strife of humanity to the boundless realms of the universe. Reygadas sums it up best as he remarks, "I begin and end with stars. This is the beginning and end of the story. There is the universe - the broadest and largest thing - then we go to the story of these three characters - and then back to the universe. It is like our life, we think we are the centre of the universe but then we are nothing too."

     Silent Light is a voyage through the tranquillity of rural life, the reversing of time and the transcending power of realizing one's own mistakes. The symbolism is all pervasive in the film through powerful imagery and imaginative soundtrack. When Johan is circling at the garage, it is as if he is going around in circles trapped in his own net of passion and guilt. When Johan stops the clock at the beginning it is as if he is unnerved by the pangs of reality and wants to shy away from it. In the scene where Esther is harvesting the field, she is torn apart and crushed and being churned inside just like the crops. A fascinating shot of Silent Light is when Marianne embraces a grieving Johan, the sunlight hits her eyes and she raises her arms so as to block the light that now hinders her vision. Her hand and forearm, framed in close-up, diagonally take up the entire screen, thus enveloping the sun. The shot is emblematic as the resulting image has supernatural overtones as it works an eclipse, perhaps signifying the final parting of Marianne and Johan.

     In Silent Light, Reygadas creates one of the most astounding sound designs, awash with natural noise, the clamouring of man-made machinery, the image and sound of the Belgium comedian on TV, and the near silent whispers of Mennonite speaking Plautdietsch. It creates a world beyond the realms of human existence.

     In the last sexual encounter between Johan and Marianne the camera assumes a position on the top from where we can see the orgasmic grunts of Marianne, as if the lens sees her from Johan's point of view.

     In Battle in Heaven, when Marcos and his wife are having sex, the film employs extreme close-ups that scrutinize their excess of flesh. Through intense shots of pained faces and vulnerable bodies making love in grotesque manner, Reygadas highlights the crisis the couples are going through and also portrays humanistic angle in the details of their interlocking and display of affection for each other. Reygadas finds tenderness in touching, so when Marcos and his overweight wife copulate, the human connection registers beyond their bulk in gestures and hugging, particularly enhanced by an of-the-moment post coital chat about Marcos' spectacle.

     At the core of Reygadas' films stand a man unable to tame his lust. He is also concerned with the materiality of harsh, unforgiving environment. In Battle in Heaven, for instance Mexico City appears through sight and sound as an oppressing gigantic metropolis, where class fragmentation is apparent. This is conveyed through recurring images of traffic-jammed avenues, packed subways, bizarre display of profanity and talk about wild sex by a group of rich Mexicans alighting from a car, multitude of people making their way to the Basilica. In Japon, Ayacatzintla is depicted in its poverty, ruthless environmental conditions and wilderness. This portrayal is further identified in the film's emphasis on animal cruelty and death ( as severing of the head of a bird, squeaking of a pig being slaughtered and the corpse of a horse).

     The close-ups of the human skin in his work could be seen as the visual equivalents of the harsh nature outside. This microscopic framing is identified for example in the recurrence of extreme close-up of faces in his films. In Japon, the micro shots of Ascen's rugged skin when juxtaposed with the recurring establishing shots of the rugged canyon, lend themselves to a beautiful connection between topography and that of her environment.

     Reygadas realizes that the details of the human skin in his films could be seen as the visual equivalents of an expression of naturalism. He realizes this naturalism by using the camera as a microscope, dissecting the human body in its minutest detail. In fact, at times, the proximity of the lens to bodies in his films threatens to disfigure the very image so as to focus on its material texture. This is what happens for instance when Ana's dreadlocked hair, framed from too close distance, mutates, itself into an entangled web of gigantic strands, signifying her state of confusion as she also battles an innate struggle against her desire to prostitute and her quest for love. Another e.g. is in the extreme close-up shot of Ana's genitalia, which occupies the entire screen, magnified to such an extent that the porosity of her skin and the texture of her pubic hair stands out.

     Reygadas is clearly fascinated by the contours and colours of the human body. The camera plays along lingeringly not only over Ana's young curves, but also over Marcos' less obviously beautiful nakedness and that of his equally proportioned wife. Reygadas comments: "What we say and how we act is learned - no matter how natural we are, we are always acting the role of ourselves. The body cannot act, but it gives you access to internal knowledge. Just think of the great portraits."

     The cinema of Reygadas not only depicts microscopic shots of human flesh, but they also employ long distance shots, backed by awesome music of pop/classical nature, which transforms the natural shape of landscapes. A prime example is the bird's eye view shot of a confluence of flyovers in Mexico City in Battle in Heaven. or the ephemeral long shot of Marcos disappearing in the mountainside in a haze of mist and fog, Even the imagery of the harsh terrain in Japon recalls the documentaries of Herzog.

     Ascen's skin reproduces in its very flesh the physical features of the landscape within which she finds herself. And while these forms could go unnoticed to the human eye alone, the film medium brings micro and macro together to reveal the remarkable similarity of their topographical surfaces.

     When in Battle in Heaven, Marcos and Ana was having sex the camera suddenly and beautifully lifts us from the scene of coitus  to the neighbourhood of adjacent buildings and courtyards and journeys us through the sound and images emanating from there and finally returns us back to where it started from. This astonishing piece of shot reminds us of a scene from "Wing of Desire", directed by Wim Wenders.

     The psychedelic speed of the tracking and 360 degrees panning of the closing final shot of the site of railway accident where Ascen died and the halt of the restless camera on discovering her corpse in Japon, accompanied by the nerve jarring music is a lasting piece of technically astonishing and immensely powerful shot. 

     In Japon, we watch a scene and hear music that's playing and then we would realize that the music is actually playing in the man's headphones and so we are taken by Reygadas right inside the man's head without us realizing it. In Battle in Heaven, the music is really much more cinematographical, open and abstract because the device that produces the music is not subjective. It is real music in a real place and we are listening to it, but then all of a sudden it is made subjective. This is exactly the case in the gas station, like when Marcos moves out and looks at the pilgrim then he turns his head and you see the pilgrims and you stop listening to the music emanating from the gas station, although the music is still playing over there. Thus Reygadas makes music subjective time to time.


     The hallmark of Reygadas' cinema is his ability to fashion, galvanizing miraculous events out of incongruent elements. The gender role-defying relation of Japon, the class warfare of Battle in Heaven or the spirituality versus carnality in Silent Light then serve as human metaphor for Reygadas' combustive disparities. The Silent Light is much more subtle, though may be less innovative, but certainly more matured and accomplished work resulting in exploring the deepest, most absurd boundaries of faith and personal transgression.

     Reygadas is not a moralist. Though his films deals with spirituality and transcendence, he vigorously steers away from judging his characters. He is like the ethereal, naturalistic creator who sits at the distant bank and watches languidly as the human story unfolds. Unlike his canonical influencers, whose films were governed by the recurrence of characters driven by faith, Reygadas' work lacks that moral impulse. For we are talking here of the universe and which thus abolish human made pre-established benchmarks of good and evil, right and wrong, sin and saint. Indeed, we are not asked to sympathise with Esther's sufferings any more than to judge Marcos' criminal acts as to pity the man's existential turmoil, but to contemplate these events as they come into being devoid of a moral value to stare into their germinal insignificance, to apprehend them in their sensuous materiality. This is no concern with morality. And it is this detached deposition of characters and refusal to reinforce moral values that decisively sets apart Reygadas from his cinematic gods. It is here that resides the originality of his work. alice

     Over the course of his career, Reygadas' technique has become more sophisticated and his vocabulary more controlled achieving sublime moments of beauty and the grotesque. His films are neither autobiographical nor self-referential. They construct a platform in which narrative is a ploy; the visual language is the powerful medium, enhanced by the telling effect of soundtracks. This deadly combination produces a mesmerizing display od cinema. Their severity and power arise from the fact that they address serious matters - love, death, fear, sex, sacrifice and redemption - through everyday experiences and in the process of doing so, they put forth a new type of humanism. Steering away from the predominance of narrative and professional acting in film, Reygadas has developed a moving and arresting body of work seemingly devoid of artifice.

     To quote Carlos Reygadas, " Let cinema transmit the power of vision, the power of sound, the power of feeling and being in the world we live in, instead of representing literary narratives taking place inside cardboard houses......In this sense, cinema is the art of reality, the medium in which reality's beauty is captured, where you can film marble or a face, or record someone's voice, a sunset, the innate beauty of what you're contemplating. Tarkovsky achieved this," Perhaps, this enfant terrible of Mexican cinema will live up to the expectation his work has generated. Will he? Well, the future holds the key to this query but so far we are hopeful.

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