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This Weekend's Must-See: "Battle in Heaven"

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik February 17, 2006 at 4:37AM

This Weekend's Must-See: "Battle in Heaven"
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Since this is a film blog, perhaps it's about time for me to write about an actual movie. In the spirit of helping small films reach their audiences, I hope to highlight a new film every Friday that's opening in New York or Los Angeles. These will be movies that must be seen on the big screen and on opening weekend. No NetFlix. No video-on-demand. No "I-have-to-be-part-of-the-stupid-zeitgeist-and-see-Super-Spider-X-Men-on-opening-day-instead." If art films are to survive, we need to get off the couch and see them the way they were intended: in theaters. Cineastes, Unite!

I caught up with Carlos Reygadas's "Battle in Heaven" late into its worldwide run, well after its "shocking" Cannes premiere, at the Sundance Film Festival. And while I don't find the movie particularly shocking -- daring, visionary, impressive, yes, but not shocking -- I do find it to be one of the most memorable pieces of cinema that I've encountered in a long time. Call it "pretentious," "cynical" or "cold," as some critics have, but "Battle in Heaven" is why arthouse theaters must continue to exist: It's a breathtaking visual and existential achievement that can only be experienced on a wide screen.

From Sundance, I wrote: "A stunning follow-up to his debut 'Japon,' 34-year-old Mexican director Carlos Reygadas establishes himself as one of the world's most important young art filmmakers with "Heaven." Famously beginning and ending with a scene in which an attractive young woman fellates a flabby older man, "Heaven" becomes the sad, tragic and hopeless story of Marcos, a low-level military man who endures a long road to possible redemption after a child he and his wife have kidnapped has died. Recalling the spiritual work of such international cinema masters as Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Bresson, "Battle in Heaven" ends up telling a tale of spiritual corruption. Meditative, with breathtaking compositions, Marcos' journey suggests painful realizations about class difference and the futile comforts provided by religion, government and soccer."