Heavenly battles and broken skies

It's past time to look beyond the big Hollywood three to emerge from Mexican cinema

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In 2006 the global media blitz continued to focus on the three Mexican directors — Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro González Iñárritu — who've been lured by Hollywood. But a new generation of auteurs, whose approaches to filmmaking range from minimalistic to baroque, are redefining and reinvigorating film and generating debate about a genuinely new Mexican cinema.

Broken Sky (El Cielo Dividido, 2006) proves the Cooperativa Morelos filmmaking team, composed primarily of writer-director Julián Hernández and producer Roberto Fiesco (also a remarkable director of shorts), remains utterly faithful to its contemplative and pictorial film language. The filmmakers are equally dedicated to their die-hard romantic vision of the precipitous highs and lows of young mestizo men in love and lust amid the urban textures of Mexico City. Like their previous projects, Broken Sky — exquisitely shot in color by Alejandro Cantú — works against dominant representations of gay men in Mexican cinema, not to mention the banal, plastic boy-toy tales that dominate many US queer films.

If you can get past bad-boy provocateur Carlos Reygadas's unsettling sexism and class politics, there is much to appreciate in his just-short-of-astounding urban epic, Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el Cielo, 2005). This audacious second film explores the calvary-like spiritual journey and ultimately futile quest for redemption of an ordinary plump mestizo chauffeur. A maverick, Reygadas again (as in his debut, 2002's Japón) uses nonprofessional actors and a somewhat grotesque, naturalistic approach to eroticism. He is matched in the sheer irreverence of his perspective on Mexican national icons (from a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe to the unfurling of a gigantic Mexican flag in the Zócalo of the National Palace) only by the likes of Arturo Ripstein and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, in terms of both its bare-bones visual style — mostly static, head-on takes — and its simple narrative, is the deadpan black comedy Sangre (2005). The debut feature by Amat Escalante, assistant director to Reygadas on Battle in Heaven, Sangre is an absurdist tragicomedy about family ties.

Fernando Eimbcke's multiaward-winning first film, Duck Season (Temporada de Patos, 2004), is also unexpectedly quirky. A self-conscious black-and-white homage to Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise, it is set in the historically charged (and massive) Tlatelolco housing complex, near downtown Mexico City. Favoring a minimalistic aesthetic, the film perfectly captures the rhythms of a Sunday afternoon in the lives of two 14-year-old boys, nicknamed Flama and Moko.

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