There are few more original and uncompromising auteurs working today than Carlos Reygadas. The director of Japón (Japan, 2002), Batalla en el cielo (Battle In Heaven, 2005), Luz silenciosa (Silent Light, 2007) and the infinitely enigmatic Post Tenebras Lux (2012), Reygadas is unique amongst Mexican contemporaries such as Del Toro, Iñàrritu and Cuarón and possesses an artistic aesthetic and sensibility all of his very own. He is a filmmaker for whom sound is as important as image. For Reygadas, cinema is all about tone and texture.
Like his previous work (which as well as his features incorporates installations), Nuestro tiempo (Our Time, 2018) is a hypnotic and provocative meditation on issues of the physical, spiritual and existential variety. Reygadas has always enjoyed making his audience uncomfortable, forcing them to engage with his work in a manner that is perhaps alien to more mainstream cinema. It’s a commitment, if accepted, that pays rich dividends.
Featuring the director and his wife Natalia López in the lead roles, the film follows Juan and Esther as they live on their remote but idyllic cattle ranch with their children. The couple has until now enjoyed an open relationship, but when Esther falls in love with an American horse trainer, she stops sharing details of her affair with her husband. The pain of not being in control leads to Juan questioning the conjugal arrangement and his own limitations and slowly but surely he begins to unravel, losing himself in a maelstrom of punishing recriminations and jealous emotions.
Produced by Jaime Romandia, Reygadas’s long term partner, and gorgeously and sensuously shot by Diego García, who also acted as the cinematographer on Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour, the film initially ruminates on life at the ranch (which is punctuated by excursions to Mexico City) and the joy of a rural existence unburdened by convention. The lives of the children (played by the real life progeny of Reygadas and López, an editor who has worked with Reygadas, Amat Escalante and Lisandro Alonso) seem especially carefree and idyllic as they frolic and play amongst nature. Clouds however begin to gather and Nuestro tiempo seamlessly segues into an incredibly courageous and bracingly raw portrait of a marriage relationship in crisis that is unafraid to both blur and probe the lines between fact and fiction. Initially evocative of Calendar (1993) by Atom Egoyan, the stakes here are arguably higher as the viewer is invited to ruminate on how much we are seeing is torn from reality.
An elemental and endlessly fascinating work that contrasts the brutality of nature with the propensity for violence triggered by human emotions, this also reminds us that film and filming is an act of voyeurism. It will leave you shaken and stirred.
Essay originally written for Frames of Representation.