Friday, Aug. 8–Thursday Aug. 14, 2014 • Roxie Theater • 3117 16th St. (@ Valencia), San Francisco • Tickets $10, www.roxie.com • Skype Q&A with director follows Friday’s 7 p.m. screening • Panel discussion follows Saturday’s 6 p.m. screening
Having already been out a year, the splendid film “Heli” by Guanajuato, Mexico’s Amat Escalante—who claimed the “Best Director” award at last year’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France—is coming to San Francisco screens.
Escalante’s excellent film—a simple story, naked and stripped of the superfluous–has not achieved widespread distribution in the U.S. due to its raw and graphic style.
“Heli” tells the story of a working-class family’s descent into a living hell. “They’ll know what it is to meet God in a land of Indian assholes!” says one of the characters in the film.
The plot revolves around the character of Heliberto, whose family is embroiled in a nasty drug deal without desire or want. The majority of the youngsters, just barely 20 years old, suffer from an interrupted adolescence in a barbaric world whose governing law is the survival of the fittest.
From the opening shot of a boot crashing down on a bloody head, Escalante makes clear what the viewer can expect. Violent and raw, “Heli” picks at the open wound of Mexican society, which has been injured by the scourge of drug trafficking and the human misery that it entails.
“It’s a wonderful country suffering from a virus,” Escalante said at Cannes. “This virus has invaded certain regions of Mexico, and that’s what I aimed to show.”
Escalante has honed the great ability to portray the human condition and ventured into the field of social analysis.
The film is divided into three acts as if it were a classical tragedy: the preface, which is the calm before the storm; the descent into hell and barbarism; and the epilogue of fear and silence.
Escalante’s skill at deciding where to place the camera, what to include within the confines of the frame and how to make effective use of what is left out of the frame, but still heard, deserves special mention. It allows him to sculpt the time within each shot without having to resort to the usage of montage.
“Heli” is the 35-year-old director’s third feature after “Bastards” (2008) and “Blood” (2005). His three films to date–all of which were accepted at Cannes Film Festival–are produced in collaboration with Carlos Reygadas’ Mantarraya Productions, another contemporary great in Mexican cinema.
“Heli” is high quality film; it’s among the very best currently in Latin America. The public should support the production of this film by attending it in the theater and clamoring for its distribution.
Although its themes may be uncomfortable, Escalante flaunts his expertise in handling cinematography, expanding his artistic reach and speaking directly to the human condition.
(Iñaki Fdez. de Retana)