[Ruby Hornet will be attending the 49th Chicago International Film Festival from 10/10 – 10/24. Be sure to follow along as we bring you coverage from the longest-running competitive international film festival in the country. You can find all of our coverage from this year’s CIFF here.]
Director: Amat Escalante
CIFF Screenings: October 19, 2013 (9:30pm), October 20, 2103 (8:30pm)
Most of us are aware of the violence and prominence of the drug cartels in Mexico. In Heli, the unfortunate reality of the situation is fictionalized in an oftentimes brutal 95 minutes of screentime. The titular Heli is a 17-year-old factory worker living within meager means with his wife, their baby, his 12-year-old sister, Estela, and their father. When Estela’s 17-year-old boyfriend, an army cadet, proposes to Estela, he stashes a secret cache of cocaine at her house. Unfortunately, it triggers a pandora’s box effect that exposes the corrupt nature of the Mexican officials being just as dangerous as the violent nature of the cartel members themselves.
Heli came with a warning of its excessive scenes of violence. While the few gruesome scenes weren’t highlighted and stylized in the way Hollywood films do, they’re no less shocking in how shocking they are. Rather, the violence is somewhat muted and nonchalant. By not making a spectacle of the violence, director Amat Escalante creates an even more devastating look at the reality that has held Mexico hostage as normal, everyday occurrences… which are unfortunately what they are.
Heli is a depressing film with no room for optimism. In saying that, it’s also one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It might be a bit niche and catered towards film festival goers, foreign film aficionados, and those with interests in Mexico’s politics, which is more than fine. If you don’t fall under these aforementioned groups, I’d still suggest seeing Heli not only to get a better understanding of how violent Mexico is right now, but how different foreign filmmakers frame their films compared to the predictable drudge Hollywood has a tendency to crank out.
Score: 8.5 out of 10