Review: Japón (2002)

Carlos Reygadas’ debut film follows a nameless man who leaves Mexico City to travel to a more rural setting. He makes no secret of the fact that his is a one way journey, that he intends to kill himself. He eventually ends up staying with an old Indian widow in her ramshackle home overlooking a desolate canyon. Her lust for life and undiminishing humanity appear to reawaken something in the man.

The only other Reygadas film I’ve seen is Silent Light (2007) and the two share similar themes and look. Faith and spirituality rear their heads at various points, especially in the discussions between the presumably ‘godless’ man and his evangelically Christian landlord. The film also possesses the same slow rhythm and long, melancholic sequences that made Silent Light such a delight. In terms of cinematography, Reygadas depicts the Mexican landscapes as if they are vast and empty. It is rare that you see a debut feature this beautiful and assured.

I did, however, find this much tougher to engage with than Silent Light. This is partly just because the film is complex and full of various lofty ideas that don’t always come across as fully formed. I also found the subplot involving the nephew’s attempts to tear down Ascen’s house distracting, especially in the scene where the builders interrupt one of the most surprising sex scenes I think I’ve even seen in cinema. The relationship between the man and Ascen is so rich and appealing that I almost could have done with it being a two-hander. That being said, the scene in which one of Juan Luis’ crew drunkenly sings (although I’m not quite sure it could quite be classified as singing) some kind of folk tune is supremely funny and compelling.

The film ends with a devastating tracking shot in which the music surges and everything slowly gets more intense until the final frame is a release. Reygadas is a serious filmmaker who writes and directs with a distinct style. Cannot wait to catch up with Battle in Heaven (2005) before Post Tenebras Lux (2012) is released in the UK on March 22nd.

B+

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