Drug cartels have been in popular culture for many years now. From Scarface, to Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, to TV shows like Breaking Bad and the amazing Mexican thriller Miss Bala. Movies like these show the large scale side of cartel action. Occasionally there comes a film that shows the effect of the cartel on a smaller scale without talking away from the action, danger and explosiveness of the cartels. Heli is that movie.
The first thing that grabs you about this film is its beauty. During its opening long shot which features a body being strung up over a bridge the thing that becomes apparent despite the horror on screen is beauty of the surrounding landscape and the cinematography. This beauty amongst the violence transfers to the story of Heli. The film shows the plight of his family life against the violence of the drug war and corruption
Told cleverly through a census officer visiting his house we are introduced to Heli and his family – he lives together with his father (who both work at the local automotive factory), his wife & son, and 12 year old sister in a small Mexican village. They live a very sombre existence but very happily. This all changes when his sister’s 17 year old boyfriend who is a trainee antidrug officer steals a whole lot of cocaine that was destined to be destroyed. He gets Heli’s sister to hide it in the house. This starts a chain of events that draws the family into the drug war and cartels
As much as the film is about drugs it is as much as much Heli and him leading his family. Despite being the focus and driving force of the film the drugs are secondary to this. This results in a movie that is beautiful as it is brutal. In many places its extremely funny, Amat Escalante perfectly interjects scenes of comedy within the narrative
When the drugs angle of movie goes full steam and Heli’s family structure is smashed apart we are reintroduced to the same sort of brutality that we see in the beginning of the film. This includes animal cruelty and a torture scene that will shock many. This quickly knocks you out of the poignant family drama you had been seeing up until that point. Heli is dark and shocking as much as it is a family drama. Many will find the film very bleak, but at its core it’s a film that is all about family.
Heli is different from the other cartel movies and TV shows that we know of in the past but a great addition of the others. Amat Escalante won best director for this movie at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and from watching this drama you can see why.
By Tendai – Cognitive Space