Battle In Heaven AKA Batalla En El Cielo
R1 - America - Tartan Video
Review written by and copyright: Ben Austin & Noor Razzak (31st August 2006).
The Film

What does the hired help do in their own time in a developing state? Turns out nothing too different from the rest of us, watching sport on TV, talking about crap, thinking about sex. Is it any wonder that people do strange things in pursuit of something new? Does this explain "Battle in Heaven"? Well, not really, but one has to open a review somehow, and someone beat me to a diatribe against urban sprawl.
"Battle in Heaven" is a visually beautiful film, despite its relatively generic urban sprawl setting. Leaving aside the rather bold opening sequence of a girl giving an overweight man a blowjob we are treated to a series of stylised shots that dwell on the actors for prolonged periods. It does not have the rushed style of most modern films; in fact it is more akin to the long, slow style used in films like "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" (1966). But the people are real, in real life environments. It really works. There is something engrossing about these long shots that really immerses one in the personality of the actors. I'm not so sure that the regular excerpts were necessary, except to centre the film with its sexual theme.
The plot almost seemed immaterial, or at least I do not think that the film would have suffered too much for losing the story. However, it did have an endearing quality, servant couple kidnaps a baby of a relative, the baby dies, and they do not know what to do. The daughter of their employer, Ana, (Anapola Mushkadiz) who leads a double life as a prostitute, is let in on the secret by the husband. Marcos (Marcos Hernández), the husband/servant then begins a lustful affair with Ana. This relationship becomes the central theme, rather than the death of the baby. Gradually though the husband loses control of reality, and things spiral out of control and then murder occurs. Redemption is sought at the hand of the Virgin Mary, and then the film ends.
"Battle in Heaven" is, simply put, a beautiful film that should be seen on a big screen where one can fully appreciate the cinematography. It does linger, but it is not a long film, coming in at 98 minutes, this is no "Kundun" (1997). This film has become a favorite, yet it is so hard to describe properly, words do not adequately convey the visual splendor that it portrays you just have to see it.

Video

Presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 this anamorphic transfer could have been far better, and for a film that is presents Mexico City as it’s backdrop and the beautifully composed shots deserve better than this. While sharpness wavers from excellent to occasionally soft it the ghosting problems that hurt this transfer as it appears to have been sourced from a PAL master and converted to NTSC. Compression artefacts are also evident in this transfer and the occasionally dirt speckled in the frame, however this is not a major issue as the majority of the print is quite clean.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this disc all of which are in the native language of Spanish, we have a DTS 5.1 surround track as well as Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view this film with its DTS track, this half bit-rate track fares better than the transfer. While dialogue was clean and distortion free, I found the surround channels were not used to their full effect, although the environmental sounds felt natural and never out of place. Keep in mind however that this is a very minimalist film and the sound in ways does reflect this.
Optional subtitles are included in English only and I found them to be adequate, I could not spot any spelling of grammatical errors.

Extras

Tartan Video has included an interview, excerpts from the director’s previous film, a theatrical trailer plus a collection of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is the interview with director Carlos Reygadas and actress Anapola Mushkadiz and runs for 33 minutes 28 seconds. The director discusses the influence for the film and adds insight into his style of filmmaking, while actress Mushkadiz talks about her involvement in the film and her acceptance of the role without having seen a script (the director doesn’t show completed scripts to anyone), she also lends her observations on Reygada’s previous film “Japón? (2002). Other topics covered include how she found working with Reygadas and also her co-star Marcos Hernández among other things. Although there isn’t a commentary on this film this clip makes an almost adequate substitute.

The disc also includes 5 excerpts from Reygadas's first film "Japón" (2002) these scenes include:

- “To Kill Myself? which runs for 1 minute 40 seconds.
- “Town Representative? which runs for 2 minutes 47 seconds.
- “Virgin Mary or God? which runs for 3 minutes 19 seconds.
- “Alone? which runs for 4 minutes 11 seconds.
- “Total Serenity? which runs for 3 minutes 13 seconds.

These scenes are lifted from the film and presented out of context, while they represent an interesting look at the director’s previous film it’s no substitute for actually watching the film and I struggle for figure out why these scenes were included on this disc as an extra?

The film’s original theatrical trailer is also included and runs for 2 minutes 1 second.

Rounding out the extras on this disc are a collection of 3 bonus trailers for:

- "Anatomy of Hell" which runs for 1 minute 6 seconds.
- "Suspicious River" which runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds.
- "9 Songs" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.

Overall

The Film: A Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: C Overall: C-

 


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