There’s a scene in Mexican filmmaker Amat Escalante’s film « Heli » in which a young woman returns home to find a pool of blood across the floor of her home and a family that’s vanished. The camera is set low to knee-height and shows her from behind as she enters, and then slowly withdraws out of the room upon making the gruesome discovery, the camera leading the way as she walks backwards to eventually lean against a wall and slowly slide down, her face hidden from us.
There is no music (in fact this whole film is music-free), which lends the scene gravitas. What makes this sequence strong, however, is what also makes the rest of the movie noticeably weak. The rest of the film is a succession of coldly-repeated scenes of the same length. Certain narrative elements are shown which raises the question, what does this bring to the story?
Escalante, a thirtysomething filmmaker who clearly takes a page from the playbook of Carlos Reygadas (in fact Reygadas helped produce the film), follows a realistic approach to filmmaking, but lacks a grammar of cinema, that knowledge which is more noticeable when absent than not. He hasn’t yet come into his own but when he does, three, five years from now, he will make some superior and memorable movies.
“Heli” so named after the dour factory worker who gets tangled up in a crime that pushes his family into the abyss, is still on the stand, the paint is drying. Escalante, a novice filmmaker who gives the impression that visiting the editing room is like selling your soul to the devil, has something to say about his country and he’s made cinema his own. But he needs time to mature.