I have a new policy when it comes to watching films. It’s very simple but it has really changed the films I watch and enjoy. Here it is: I don’t want to know anything about a film before I watch it; I don’t want to know who directed it, stars in it, where it was made or what language it is in.
Now obviously this means that I watch a lot of crap. But then I watched a lot of crap before. The American film industry has gone insane, the big blockbusters are made in a weird, twisted way; coherent scripts no longer matter as long as there are big explosions, a clutch of special effects, some eye candy and there’s enough diversity to satisfy the international markets. Which begs the question: if the script doesn’t matter, why not have a good one?
Anyway, I digress. The good side of my new policy is that I have now seen a lot of movies I would never have gone near and thoroughly enjoyed or appreciated them. I have even watched a Woody Allen movie. And I have reluctantly concluded that I like Woody Allen films, as long as the four-eyed little sleaze isn’t in them.
Take for example ‘Heli.’ What the fuck is this? Searching, wrestling only with the name, my mind came up with a nice children’s film, possibly animated, about an anthropomorphic helicopter. The kind of thing celebrities come up with when they’re pitching a synopsis to the intended ghost writer of their kid’s book.
I cannot emphasise enough how far away ‘Heli’ is from this. First of all, Heli, the titular character is a young Mexican chap and when we meet him, his life is about to hit the fan (or chopper blades?)
Heli’s sister is in love with a trainee federal agent, charged with busting up the drug gangs of Mexico. If you watched ‘Breaking Bad’ then you’ll know this is a serious business involving, to paraphrase every Guy Ritchie movie ever: right proper bastards. Anyway this kid thinks he can get away with stealing drugs through his job and then sell them on in order to raise enough cash to marry Heli’s younger sibling.
This all goes terribly wrong.
People die, spines are smashed, penises are set on fire and massive nipples are exposed; it’s tough and relentless in its story telling and its message. Which is fine I suppose and on the whole ‘Heli’ is an excellent film. It’s truly beautiful and the quality of light peculiar to Mexico makes even the grittiest of locations an ocular delight. The dialogue is naturalistic and superbly delivered by a talented cast (Heli’s sister played by Andrea Vergara is particularly good). This is all reflected in it success at Cannes etc.
The main trouble with ‘Heli’ is that it’s relentlessly depressing. It almost revels in its misery, the introduction of a cute puppy has little to do with plot or character development and more to do with having its neck casually snapped by marauding federal agents.
The makers of the film might point out, that confronting us with the wide scale corruption and collusion between the Feds and the cartels is relentless and it is depressing. Which is a good point, but the problem with films with a message, is that if they eschew the lighter sides of life (which are just as real as the misery) they can have an extremely short shelf life and ultimately won’t deliver their message to as many people as they would hope.
So while, ‘Heli’ is a very good film, I will probably never watch it again, will hesitate recommending it to anyone and will have probably have forgotten it in a year or so. Which is not good when you have something political to say.
Heli is out on DVD now