The past 20 years have seen native filmmakers like Alfonso Arau, Alfonso Cuaron and Gonzalez Inarritu gain considerable reps beyond Mexico’s borders. Now its Carlos Reygadas who’s the country’s latest critical darling.
The 34-year-old helmer with a law degree and a stint in the Mexican foreign service raised more than a few critics’ eyebrows with his first release, “Japon” (Japan), a stark, contemplative film that bowed at Cannes in 2002. His followup, “Batalla de sangre” (Blood Battle), has been chosen for Cannes’ main Competition, an honor that hasn’t fallen to a Mexican filmmaker since Arturo Ripstein’s “El coronel no tiene quien le escribe” in 1999. The last time a Mexican pic not directed by Ripstein competed for the Palme d’Or, Reygadas was four years short of being born.
“This is a very big film in all senses of the word,” says Jaime Romandia, head of Mantarraya Films, which produced “Batalla.”
With a $1.6 million budget, “Batalla,” a co-production with France, Belgium and Germany, appears modest. But considering that “Japon” cost only $200,000, Reygadas and Mantarraya felt they could pull out all the stops on the new project, the story of a Mexico City man who commits a crime, with terrible consequences.
Cuaron has been one of Reygadas’ most vociferous advocates over the difficult process of financing and promoting the film — it was four times denied government funding, and then couldn’t come up with enough cash to bow at Venice last fall.
“Japon” was sold in over 40 countries and was profitable; “Batalla” has distribution in France, Belgium and the U.K. This month, Mexico’s National Film Institute, so hesitant to help pay for pic’s production costs, forked over $100,000 for rights to sell it to a U.S. distributor.