Provocative, explicit, horrifying, uncompromising, yet unmistakably humanist, Battle in Heaven is the film that Bruno Dumont should have made after L’Humanité. Instead, it is Carlos Reygadas who rekindles the spirit of Robert Bresson in his exposition on ritualism as a path to transcendence. For the film’s protagonist, Marcos (Marcos Hernández), mundane ritual has come to define his entire existence. Working as a security guard at a military fort where his duties include being a part of the ceremonial cadre who raise and lower the national flag at dawn and dusk, the theme of repetitive ritual is also reflected in his wife’s (Bertha Ruiz) sideline, hawking clocks at a subway station. Even his employment as a personal driver to a high ranking general involves a certain measure of predictability, often chauffeuring the general’s daughter Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz) to her boyfriend’s apartment or a clandestine brothel operating in an upscale neighborhood where she works as a part-time call girl. Intrinsic in Reygadas’ dedramatized, incisive, and occasionally surreal imagery of Mexico’s complex physical and metaphoric landscape – and in particular, in the dynamics of Marcos and Ana’s unusual relationship – is the metamorphosis of sexuality and spirituality as modes of intimate and personal ritual. In Reygadas’ bracing portrait of Mexico’s profoundly fractured and polarized – and perhaps irredeemable – society, human connection occurs not through the opacity of the soul but through the characters’ disembodied rituals that serve as communion for unarticulated desire. By correlating this seemingly fated and inescapable sense of irredeemability with Marcos’ search for redemption following his complicity in perpetrating a grievous and tragic crime, his inner turmoil serves as a metaphor, not only for the casting of a fallen angel alluded in the title, but invokes the allegorical, epic struggle for the very soul of all lost, dispirited, and broken humanity.
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