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Carlos Reygadas is the Mexican film-maker who for nearly 20 years has teased and provoked and entranced us with his signature mix of beautiful quietism and sudden explicitness. (A friend once said it was the arthouse equivalent of Kurt Cobain singing in a subdued throaty whisper and then in a roar.) He is a technically gifted director capable of superb images and thrilling vistas, startling juxtapositions of long-shot panorama and closeup detail, mysteriously disjointed successions of dramatic scenes.
His films sometimes seem more like installations than dramas. But I sense that, step by step, Reygadas is coming closer to autobiography, closer to being open about himself personally, but also – worryingly – balancing these quasi-revelations with evasive and exasperating contrivances and bafflements. And Our Time, for all its moments of brilliance, takes almost three hours in leading us nowhere very rewarding at all.
On the face of it, it is very similar to his 2012 film Post Tenebras Lux (“Light After Darkness”), which began with scenes on a remote Mexican ranch and then enigmatically developed from there. Our Time opens in a similar way, with wonderful shots of kids playing in a magnificent landscape: they are part of a big family-and-friends party hosted by a married couple, Juan and Ester, played by the director himself and by Natalia López, his frequent collaborator as editor, producer and co-writer – and indeed his real-life wife.
The setting is a ranch (filmed on Reygadas’s own ranch) where Juan breeds bulls for bull-fighting. The film doesn’t belabour the metaphorical qualities of this, or not at first; neither does it waste a millisecond on debating the rights and wrongs of it. But Juan is also a prizewinning and hugely admired artistic creator in his spare time – not a film-maker, but a poet, who goes to poetry festivals as opposed to film festivals.
With three handsome children, Juan and Ester appear to be very happy. But there is a problem. They have a relaxed attitude to monogamy, bordering on an open relationship, and when Ester has a fling with a visiting American horse-breeder called Phil (Phil Burgers), Juan is hurt but claims he would have been happy enough as long as she was honest about it. When Phil guiltily breaks off the affair to Ester’s despair, Juan contacts Phil secretly and demands that he continue and let their sexual infatuation play itself out naturally. Phil is unsure whether to participate in what seems like a kinky and destructive game. This painful and strangely unsexy situation, reeking of male aggression and toxic masculinity, finds its ultimate symbolic expression in the bulls themselves.
It is not irrelevant to wonder about the real-life story behind the film. But what is interesting about Our Time are the peripheral touches. Juan’s relationship with his oldest son is moving, and there is a superb scene in which Ester goes to a timpani concerto in Mexico City. What is the need for that scene? Well, reason not the need. An alluring spectacle – but shallow and self-indulgent.
• Our Time is released in the UK on 12 July.
Source: The Guardian
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