Director: Carlos Reygadas

Mexico| 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 137 min.

Carlos Reygadas’s arresting debut feature simply burns with ambition and a profound faith in the cinema’s ability to encompass the widest possible themes. The unnamed central character is a man on a mission, travelling north from Mexico City’s urban throng to a remote village situated on a vertiginous plateau. We learn that he is a painter, he listens to Bach, Shostakovich and Arvo Part on his walkman, and little else. Except that he’s on his way to kill himself. Shades of Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry perhaps, as rugged, scrubby landscapes accompany his quest, yet when he’s offered a room by a kindly old peasant woman, his resolve begins to be tested by her uncommon kindness and inner peace.
Reygadas weighs up the anguished intellectualising of the protagonist—for whom Shostakovich’s valedictory ’15th Symphony’ expresses his own loosening grip on life—against his host’s unquestioning Catholicism, but the film’s more interested in tracing a common humanity than exploring schematic divisions. Many have seen more than a touch of Andrei Tarkovsky in its focused deliberation, but it’s saved from pastiche and pretentiousness by the easy communication between Reygadas’s camera and the non-professional cast. The director brings something that is very much his own to the party with an instinctive feel for the visual coup—the climactic whirling seven-minute tracking shot, scored to Part’s ‘Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten’ in its entirety, is a blazing celluloid statement of intent.

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