One of the key filmmakers to emerge from the Nuevo Cine Mexicano movement, Carlos Reygadas is among a number of filmmakers redefining Mexican cinema. Unlike his peers Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose films have garnered wide critical and commercial acclaim, Reygadas’ name is not as well known to the casual film lover. Frequently infusing European influences into his work, his films are both personal and polarizing. Reygadas’ works often focus on individuals who are outsiders in his native Mexico. He frequently takes an abstract and cerebral approach to the themes of alienation and spirituality.
Born on October 10, 1971 in Mexico City, Mexico, Reygadas’ attended the prestigious Mount St. Mary’s College in Derbyshire, Britain. During his time there studying law, Reygadas discovered the world of European cinema through diverse filmmakers such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Robert Bresson, and Michelangelo Antonioni. These artists left a profound mark on Reygadas. Even as he worked as a lawyer in London, as part of the United Nations for armed conflicts, Reygadas’ interest in film only grew greater. This thirst for cinema resulted in Reygadas making his own short in 1999 called Prisioneros.
Reygadas’ second short film, Maxhumain, focused on a man reflecting on his past while preparing to kill himself. As he bounds his legs to an anchor in the ocean, the man ponders a story his mother once told him when he was just a teenager. It’s a very strange short film that features a visual aesthetic that Reygadas would refine over the course of his feature films. The short can be seen here.
Through the money he made working as a lawyer, along with the funding from producers in Mexico and Belgium, Reygadas was able to make his debut featured film Japon. The film explored a man’s desire for serenity in a remote village in Mexico. The man’s quest ultimately leads him to seek refuge in the ramshackle home of an elderly Indian woman. Avoiding conventional plotting, Reygadas took a more cerebral and minimalist approach to this particular story.
Shot on 16mm, by cinematographers Diego Martinez Vignatti and Thierry Tronchet, Reygadas cinematic influences can been seen in many facets of the film. Taking cues from Robert Bresson, he opted to use non-actors for the project. Reygadas also cites Tarkovsky in many of the visuals cues he infused in the film. This includes several long and lingering shots of the mountains and valleys in Mexico. His depiction of sex was considered controversial since he not only had images of the man being intimate with an older woman, but also images of young animals having sex as well. Despite the shock factor, Reygadas knew that the scenes were crucial for emphasizing the man’s desire to find something meaningful in his life.
Japon premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Camera d’Or prize. Though it did not win, the film received a special mention from the festival. Riding the wave of attention from Cannes, Reygadas’ film received a very limited release in Europe and Mexico.
Battle in Heaven (review)
Despite some of the success he gained for Japon, it took a few years for Reygadas to get his next project, Battle in Heaven, off the ground. Since his interests were not commercially minded, it was tough finding financial backers for his film ideas. Fortunately, there were those willing to support his exploration of a man, Marcos (Marcos Hernandez), struggling to come to terms with a botched kidnapping. Filmed on location in Mexico City, Reygadas once again used non-actors for key roles in the film.
Of course, similar to Japon, it was the sexual content that caught audiences by surprise. Reygadas opened and closed the film with Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz), a sex trade worker Marcos has known since she was a little girl, having oral sex with Marcos. The two also have an explicit sex scene during the film that involved actual penetration. As if that was not shocking enough, Reygadas’ film features another explicit scene involving Macos and his wife Berta (Bertha Ruiz). The scenes not only played into Reygadas’ provocative nature, but also the film’s overall themes of guilt, loss and the desire for connection.
Battle in Heaven premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the Palme d’Or. The film polarized both audiences and critics. The biggest criticism the film received was for its sexual content. However, Reygadas welcomed the raised profile, and notoriety, that he garnered in the art-house cinemas.
Silent Light (review)
Following the polarizing reception of Battle in Heaven, his third feature was somewhat of a departure of sorts for Reygadas. Silent Light revolved around a man, Johan (Cornelio Wall), who is conflicted over his feelings for both his wife, Esther (Miriam Toews), and his mistress, Marianne (Maria Pankratz). The interesting thing about Johan’s extramarital affair is that many know about it, but no one tells his wife.
Set in a remote Mennonite community in Northern Mexico, which consists of people descended from Germany, Reygadas used Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet as his inspiration for the film. This is especially evident in the methodical pacing and minimalist way that Reygadas dissects Johan’s predicament. Reygadas also utilized the Mennonite setting to his advantage from both from a story and technical standpoint. Cinematographer Alexis Zabe’s photography style evoked a sense of naturalism that floats throughout Silent Light. The attention to detail by set designer Geraldo Tagle and art director Nohemi Gonzalez helped to provide both realism and cinematic beauty to the Mennonite community depicted on screen. This is particularly evident in the film’s very chilling, and surprising, funeral scene.
Silent Light made its premiere at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival where it played in competition for the Palme d’Or. Unlike the polarizing reception over Battle in Heaven, Silent Light received rave reviews from critics and audiences. The film shared the third-place Jury Prize with the animated film Persepolis. Silent Light also won prizes at other film festivals and received its biggest praise from American filmmaker Martin Scorsese.
Revolucion-This is My Kingdom
The success for Silent Light proved to be fruitful for Reygadas as he spent the next few years working on small projects, including an anthology film called 42 One Rush Dreams. He made a documentary called Serenghetti, which featured montages of women playing soccer, that was shown exclusively at the 2009 Rotterdam Film Festival. In 2010, Reygadas created a 12-minute short entitled This is My Kingdom for the Mexican anthology film Revolucion. The short juxtaposes various people at a party talking about life in Mexico with images of kids playing on a destroyed car. Reygadas uses the chaotic celebration to show the richness, strength, and ultimate endurance within Mexican culture. The short can be seen here.
Post Tenebras Lux (review)
After spending time producing films for other filmmakers, Reygadas finally return with his fourth film Post Tenebras Lux. Inspired by Reygadas’ own life, the film tells the story of a rich man, Juan (Adolfo Jiminez Castro), living in rural Mexico. Like Reygadas, Juan wants to be treated like a regular person but his financial status does not allow for this. As a result, he feels disconnected from those who work for him. Juan’s conflicts with status, coupled with his sexual frustration, manifest itself in a way that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
Taking cues from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror, Reygadas took personal themes and presented them in an abstract and impressionistic way. Much of the narrative is non-linear and plays with the notion of memory and fantasy. This included existential and surreal moments such as the repeated appearance of a red devil. To emphasize the surrealism, cinematographer Alexis Zabe blurred the edges of the frame for many of the film’s exterior shots.
Still in the glow of Silent Light, Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux rode into the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on a wave of high expectations. However, the film ultimately polarized both critics and audiences. Some praised it for its visuals and existential themes. Others criticized the film for being pretentious and tedious in its approach to storytelling. Nonetheless, Reygadas walked away with the festival’s Best Director prize and Post Tenebras Lux went on to be a hit in the art-house circuit.
With four feature films and a handful of shorts, Carlos Reygadas has already made quite a name for himself in cinema. He is currently hard at work on another short which will be featured in an upcoming anthology film designed to promote the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Due to the provocative nature of his films, Reygadas brand of filmmaking is definitely not for everyone. They require a lot of patience out of the viewer. Regardless, the films always manage to say something about human nature and the world at large. His ability to make personal films that leave audiences deep in thought is one of the many attributes that makes Carlos Reygadas one of cinema’s most fearless filmmakers.
© thevoid99 2014