Flaming Genital Submission

It was announced yesterday that Amat Escalante‘s horrific Heli is Mexico’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. You’ll have to search far and wide to find a colder, more repellent film than this, and I therefore admire the bravery…okay, the resolve of the Mexican officials who made this call. “This is an animalistic landscape, a territory lorded over by serpents and psychopaths,” I wrote after seeing Heli in Cannes. “It’s hugely unpleasant to watch, but I’ll give Escalante this — he shows violence as a brutally blunt and horrific tool. Which is exactly how it feels in real life.”

From my 5.15.13 review: “I’m sitting in my Cannes apartment, damp and chilled from the rain and trying to get Amat Escalante‘s Heli out of my head. It’s a starkly drawn, no-frills, deeply ugly Mexican art film about the ravaging of Mexican society by drug traffickers and how poor people always take it in the neck. I respect Escalante (Sangre, Los Bastardos) and his austere mindset, but there would have to be something wrong with anyone who says they ‘liked’ this movie. It uncovered every dark and fatalistic thought I’ve had about my life and about life in general, and generally sent me into a black-dog mood pit.

Heli is about a family of poor Mexican rurals living near the very lowest rung of everything — income, education, opportunity, consciousness. I would rather kill myself than live a life like this — no computers, no wifi, no Blurays, no film festivals, no love, no laughter to speak of. The movie is basically saying life for these guys goes from drab and depressing to flat-out ghastly due to the drug-dealing malevolence that’s poisoning much of Mexico.

“What happens is that some bags of cocaine go missing and the drug baddies take revenge on a pair of no-accounts — Heli (Armando Espitia), a married mental flatliner who works a night shift at an auto assembly plant, and a dumb police trainee (Juan Eduardo Palacios) in his late teens or early 20s who’s actually looking to marry Heli’s 12 year-old sister, Estela (Andrea Vergara). Heli and the trainee get taken away and tortured by drug dealers, and at the end of the session the trainee gets hung by the neck from a bridge. Oh, and Heli’s dad gets shot to death.

“But before this happens the trainee’s genitals are doused with lighter fluid and set aflame. Very realistically, I might add. And right before that the neck of a little white dog is snapped like a twig by the drug dealers — the audience yelped when this happened. And Estela is kidnapped by the druggies and sexually molested and impregnated.”

  • Steven Gaydos

    Two items worth noting: the Spielberg-led jury awarded HELI “best director” honors in Cannes. The Gaydos-led jury in Munich awarded HELI “best film” honors over 15 other internationally known and lauded features. so I agree with your assessment. This is a brave and bold choice on the part of the Mexican committee. I can only imagine they see the importance of this fiercely honest film’s cry of anguish and ice cold clarity in its portrayal of the human costs of the Mexican drug wars, including the estimated 100,000 dead in just the past few years.

  • I spent a month in Mexico one night.

  • There is something uncomfortably Eloi-ish about your response to this film. Because it doesn’t feature the comforts of modern, upper-class America and a feel-good narrative, you’re ready to dismiss it.

    • I respect it but I dismissed it because it made me feel miserable and nauseous while watching it.

  • Luis Manuel Cabrera

    At least the campaign of Derbez to impose “Instructions not included” didn’t pay off

  • bentrane

    Mexico is a beautiful country with great people beset by corruption and drug violence. As someone who has visited many times, and speaks Spanish, I can only hope that films like this will eventually reflect a reality that is in the past.