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For his latest picture, the Mexican director Carlos Reygadas picks through the spilled guts of a failing marriage. It’s a move away from the spiritual concerns of previous films, particularly Silent Light, and towards more profane preoccupations. Juan, a celebrated poet and the owner of a cattle ranch that breeds fighting bulls (the swilling testosterone evoked by the backdrop is no accident), is in an open relationship with his wife, Esther. But their marriage is tested when Esther falls in love with another man – American horse trainer Phil – and cloaks the relationship in heady secrecy. The somewhat flat digital cinematography is given raw texture by the churning tensions and sparks of jealousy between the characters.
There’s an additional layer here – Reygadas plays Juan, his real-life wife, Natalia López, plays Esther, and their own children appear as the couple’s kids. Reygadas has claimed that the film is a work of fiction and that the casting decision was a matter of expediency rather than autobiography. And yet there’s a sense of stinging exposure in certain scenes, of uncovered emotional wounds. One is especially notable: heightened sound design makes a sequence that shows a drunk and anguished Juan bursting in on his wife and her lover almost unbearable.
There is also, it should be added, a degree of self-indulgence that is magnified by Reygadas’s decision to put his own family in the frame. The film explores the mechanics of infatuation and marital power tussles; it also, at one point, explores the mechanics of Esther’s truck – the camera is positioned first inside the engine, and then somewhere near the front axle. Which is all very well – Reygadas has made a career out of a confrontational lyricism, finding poetry in images that could be considered mundane or even ugly – but the film is nearly three hours long. You have to question how much time spent loitering next to the carburettor is actually justified.
Source: The Guardian
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