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2014年4月1日 星期二

Heli (毒粉風暴)

My fourth film at the HKIFF got 7 awards: Lorenzo Hagerman won the Silver Frog for best cinematography from Cameraimage 2013 and at the Stockholm Film Festival 2013, its director Amat Esaclante  won the best director award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the Grand Coral for best film in the Havana Film Festival 2013, the Elcine for the Best Film at the Lima Latin Film Festival, the Louve d'or at the Montréal Festival of New Cinema 2013, the Cine Latino award at the Palm Spring International Film 2014,  Festival of New Cinema 2013. What's all that about? It's Heli, a Mexican film by Latin new wave director Amat Escalante.

It's a well told simple story about the power of the drug racketeers from both sides of the law. Heli (Amando Espitia) is an auto-worker at his Mexican home town who lives with his father and who rides his bicycle to and from work from his primitive suburban house to support his wife Sabrina (Linda González), and his baby Santiago and his 12-year-old sister Estela(Andrea Vergara) who thinks that she is falling in love with a 17-year-old soldier in training Beto.

As the film opens, we see two bodies, face covered with blood with a boot over one of them slumped on the corrugated grooves of what appears to be the floor at the back of a truck, with the sound of motor whirring along a bumpy road. Opposite are a pair of feet. As the  camera zooms out, we see that it's travelling along a road during the night. It makes some turns and then pulls over at the kerbside. A number of figures emerge from the truck and lift out from the truck first one body and then another. One of them was later shown to be hung from the railings of an overhead pedestrian footbridge straddling the road and the other simply dumped on the rough concrete surface in the middle of  the footbridge. They leave. The camera follows the  truck as it continues on its way. It reaches the middle of nowhere in some semi-desert land. Another body is pulled out and dumped on the ground. The film is about how this came to pass. The body hung on the footbridge is that of Beto, the body dumped in the desert is that of Heli's father and the body deposited in the middle of the footbridge that of Heli.

Beto is in training as a soldier: being drilled in push ups, running, marching, rolling over his own vomit, the use of firearms etc. He falls in love with Estela, who loves her puppy and keeps it with her all the time, even when Beto is trying to fondle her tiny breasts in the backseat of his run down car and talks of marrying her in another town. She hesitates thinking it's a bit too early but says she loves him. We are shown a ceremony in which the town authorities are burning a huge quantity of heroin and marijuana and some pirated DVDs conducted under the auspices of the town authorities and the army. Beto is one of those involved in handling the drugs. The drugs went up in flames, but not two packets which Beto hid in the water tank at the roof of Heli's house, something which Heli discovered when Sabrina complained that the water in her shower appeared blocked and he went up to the roof to check. Shortly thereafter, some armed men in helmets and machine guns appeared claiming to be the police, fired indifferently at all moving figures in sight and when Heli's father grabbed his rifle to defend himself, he was gunned down. Beto and Heli were seized and then taken to a hut where Beto's genitals was doused with petrol and then lit after he was beaten half dead with more than a hundred blows from a cricket bat. He passed out, motionless, dead. Like Beto, Heli was also hung from the roof with a hook and his back beaten with the same cricket bat and some children,then engaged in playing interactive TV games, were invited to join in the fun of inflicting blows upon the back of the victim. One of them asked the adults there, "what's he done?" to which no one replied. But his genital was not burned. He led the criminals to the pond where he threw them away. And he was set free on that footbridge.

The police came to Heli's house to investigate. Heli initially refused to say anything because he was concerned that if he did, then the police might think his father a drug dealer although he knew his father was killed in self-defence but eventually, his concern for his sister overcame his scruples and he told them what he found in the water tank in his house one day when he was approaching home from work on his bike and found Beto necking with his sister upon right beside that water tank. But he did so only after the police told him that unless he gave them information they wanted, they would not be able to find her sister. He told the police where and how he threw away the drugs: a pond in the desert. After he did that, his sister returned, pregnant. But no culprits had been found. Nevertheless, he was overjoyed. She was recommended to go to another town for an abortion after which the regular medical service would take over. But at first Estela would not tell what happened to her that fateful night they were all taken from their house. But eventually, she drew from her recollection, a sketch of the location where she was taken to. Armed with the sketch, Heli found the place on his bike. He waited. A figure appeared and entered the isolated house in the desert close to power cable tower. He approached with an axe. From a distance, we see him enter, drag out a man and put his hands upon his throat. We see the man's legs flying in the air, writhing, with less and less force and eventually stopped. The film ends.

The film portrays the true violence underlying some of the activities of drug rackets in Mexico: the mutilated corpses of those whom the drug racketeers think betray them are openly displayed in conspicuous bridges across highways! There appear to be a thousand subterranean links between military, the police, the municipal authorities and the racketeers which ensure that the truth will never be found  and justice never see the light of day. We can see why such a perfectly ordinary guy may be forced to take the law into their own hands.The film doesn't judge. It merely shows what can happen.

The acting of Amando Espitia as an ordinary Mexican worker, husband, son and brother  and Andrea Vergara as a teenage school girl are convincing. The cinematography is stunning. I like in particular the way Hagerman films the car speeding across the horizon of the huge expanse of the semi-desert against the limitless sky, the way he films the action in the dark and the way he films some of the sequences from a huge distance off to abate a little the true violence involved.I also like the tinge of blue against which all the nefarious activities of the gangsters are captured on the camera in the hours of darkness.