Battle in Heaven (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

Battle in Heaven should be used to torture political prisoners. Show this thing at Gitmo and those terror-boys will not only be ratting out all their cells, they'll be begging for a Bible, a ham sandwich, and a copy of the Wall Street Journal rather than watching the film again.

The plot - all two minutes worth - involves a poor, 40ish, obese Mexican couple who bungle a baby-napping badly enough that they end up with a dead baby. The husband works as a chauffeur for a rich general, and one day he confesses his crime to the general's daughter. She is appalled. He therefore has two choices: he can turn himself in (his own preference), or he can kill the rich chick (his wife's suggestion). The complex moral decision is complicated by the fact that the rich chick is a spoiled sex-obsessed brat who works in a brothel for kicks, is really young and hot, and throws the fat old husband a freebie now and then. The "moral" choice battles with the "immoral" one for control of his soul.

On the slow, slow path toward the resolution, we are treated to:

(1) Graphic XXX photography of the rich chick blowing the fat guy in real time.

(2) Graphic XXX photography of the rich chick fucking the fat guy in real time, followed by the detumescence of his penis in real time.

(3) R-Rated photography of the obese husband porking his morbidly obese wife.

(4) Mexican soldiers raising and lowering the flag in real time.

(5) Performances from untrained amateur actors. The "star" delivers every line robotically, with his hands held stiffly at his side. Even during sex! He never changes his facial expression in coitus or elsewhere. I assume he was supposed to do all of this, but it is laughable.

(6) Several minutes of the fat guy running around in a fog. I don't mean that figuratively.

(7) Actors posed silently in a stagy tableaux while the director moves the camera from place to place to show the audience some indications of their thoughts through the movement of their hands, or their genitals, or whatever.

(8) Lots and lots of arthouse-style Christian iconography, dredged up from the husband's subconscious as his guilt accumulates.

(9) Background noise which consists of either funereal Mexican music or irritating Tarkovsky-style natural sounds like artificially loud dripping water.

In fact, considering the last four points above, you could very convincingly argue that this would be the very movie Tarkovsky would make if he were to come back as a young man from the artsy-fartsy portion of the Mexican intelligencia. Director Carlos Reygadas would undoubtedly consider that a compliment, and in a certain way it is. He has some of Tarkovsky's gift for creative camera work and the composition of painterly images. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, he also has the bad qualities that doomed Tarkovsky's later works: pretentiousness, obsession, emotional inaccessibility, and glacial pacing.  To make matters worse, he throws in a bit of the ol' Owl Creek Bridge twist at the end of this film, showing us that at least one scene was simply a daydream, so that it becomes unclear whether we have witnessed real events or other extended daydreams.

I reckon that Reygadas is being deliberately confrontational with his ugly sex scenes and his arthouse sensibilities, but I'll be damned if I can figure out why. He seems smart enough to realize that he's made a movie which will appeal to virtually no one except a few guys in turtlenecks. The one thing that seems capable of rescuing Reygadas from a life of sitting in cafes and talking to leftover beatniks is that he does have a sense of humor, albeit a very contemptuous one, and it often shines through. There is the contrast of the raising and lowering of the Mexican flag to the raising and lowering of Marcos's penis, with the same ceremonial music playing in both cases. There is the fixed vision of a poor, expressionless, fat couple selling pathetic and kitschy Mexicana in a Mexico City underpass, a tableaux which is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.

Astoundingly, the film got quite a few tens from IMDB voters. I think you have to ask yourself this. "What is the upper rating a film like this could possibly achieve?" It is an arthouse movie with no more than two minutes worth of plot, half of which (the tragic kidnapping) occurs off-camera. It is performed by morbidly obese amateur actors. It is unscripted. It is XXX, with unsimulated sex scenes. So if you made the very best one of those in the history of cinema, would it merit a ten, alongside Schindler's List and Casablanca? Kinda doubtful, ain't it? Assume that all the fat people somehow turned in performances that would make Ken Branagh envious. Assume that they somehow improvised dialogue to make Oscar Wilde seem dull-witted. Would that merit a ten? No, not even in that event, because there's still so much to drag it down. But those things did not happen. Anyone who gave this a ten has obviously lost all sense of perspective.

To sum it all up briefly, Reygadas seems to have studied the masters, has some talent of his own, and has no sense of limits. Those qualifications look good on his resume, and we can hope that he someday uses them to make an actual movie rather than this kind of provocative "performance art" crap.


Region 1 DVD INFO (left)

Region 2 DVD info here

  • The widescreen transfer is anamorphically enhanced
  • Interviews with the director and Anapola Mushkadiz


  • Anapola Mushkadiz - graphic nudity during sex and fellatio.

  • Bertha Ruiz - breasts and bum (she weighs about 300 pounds)

  • Marcos Hernandez - the full monty, including an erection in two different scenes.

  • unknown woman - full frontal in the bordello

Tuna's notes

Battle in Heaven is essentially slow motion sex among non-actors, some of them more than a little obese, and is impossibly arty. Not only that, but what we see contradicts itself, such that we have no real  idea what is real and what isn't.

Marcos Hernandez plays a chauffeur to a general's daughter. His wife sells cheap trinkets in a subway corridor for a living. The two have kidnapped a baby for ransom, but the baby died. Marcos confesses to Anapola Mushkadiz, the general's daughter, but she has her own secret. She works as a hooker in a brothel for kicks. This somehow creates a bond between the two. Marcos is terribly conflicted about the dead baby, and Ana encourages him to turn himself in. Marcos' wife, Bertha Ruiz, won't hear of it, and wants Ana shut up. It is hard to tell what is going on in Marcos' head, as his expression never changes, even when he is getting a real blow job from, or having real sex with, Ana, or having simulated sex with Martha. 

Carlos Reygados, whose first film was well received, obviously has a lot of talent, but was a complete failure as a story-teller here. There are some positive reviews, and folks who specialize in finding film symbolism are able to discover some here, which pleases the director. In fact, he welcomes any interpretation of his film, even if it is not something that entered his mind. Anapola felt the film, like Mexico, was all about contradictions. The actual inspiration for this film was a shirtless and barefoot fat man walking by a cathedral in the rain, holding a religious relic.

Reygados works without scripts, and prefers non-actors. He doesn't want the viewing public to associate his characters with previous roles. Also, he casts people who naturally portray something that appeals to him. He cares more about imagery than story or characters.  Reygados is clearly fearless, has the ability to get brave performances from his casts and has visual style and technical ability. We will hear more from him, hopefully with a better inspiration next time.

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: two stars. Mail 2/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 8/10, Guardian 4/10, Times 8/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 2/10, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.0/10, with about an equal number of ones and tens being the grades most frequently selected by voters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, Scoop says, "This film is a D, a love-it-or-hate-it film with a love-hate ratio of about 1:999, but some critics will undoubtedly find reasons to praise it, on the theory that there is no crap too pretentious enough to turn off certain critics." Tuna says, "I tend to agree with Scoop's emotion, but the film does have an audience that seems to "get it." Thus, it is a C-" (Meaning it COULD be for you if you aren't scared off by an unscripted xxx arthouse movie performed by obese amateur actors.)

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