Our Time

 

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A film with an impressive first half which then turns into an endurance test.

 
Our Time

 

Mexico's Carlos Reygadas has always been a challenging filmmaker ever ready to be provocative and demanding but often creating memorable works. His very first feature, 2002's Japón, revealed his ambition, Silent Light of 2007 was almost as good and all of his movies contain memorable images. The first half of his latest film, Our Time, is itself a reminder of that visual flair as it introduces us to a family running a ranch for the training of bulls. On this occasion, Reygadas himself takes on a central role playing the father, Juan, who is also a poet and Natalia López, his wife in real life, appears as Juan's wife, Esther, whose contribution to the success of the ranch is substantial. They have three children, a son now at school (Yago Martínez) and two who are much younger, Gaspar (Eleazar Reygadas) and Leonora (Rut Reygadas). This use by Reygadas of his actual family has caused much comment, not least because Our Time is a study of a marriage in crisis. In the story this situation largely arises due to the fact that, despite seemingly accepting the sexual freedoms of an open marriage, Juan becomes deeply jealous when he learns that Esther has been involved with a gringo horse trainer, Phil (Phil Burgers).

 

Reygadas has spurned suggestions that the story, which he wrote himself, has an autobiographical basis, but what is really striking about the first half of Our Time is the way in which, without it ever suggesting any direct personal connection with its creator, the film makes us feel that we are watching life itself unfold. Rather than experiencing any sense of a constructed dramatic narrative we simply observe people and the setting in which they live, but with the expectation that the three central adult characters are headed for something disturbing. Early scenes of children whose play can lead to a violence not wholly playful together with an episode in which a bull turns wild and gores a mule become symbols of what could happen.

 

Much of this is very impressive and there is a memorable sequence in which growing menace is implied by incorporating a scene in a concert hall where a timpani concerto creates a dramatic impact. But nothing about this study of a marriage suggests the need for a treatment lasting almost three hours and the whole tone of the film changes about halfway through with a touch of voice-over narration heard for the first time. What has been an almost documentary feel now yields to a more stylised approach and an increasing emphasis on the romantic triangle at the expense of the wider picture. With Phil left as an undeveloped character, the viewer’s interest in Juan and Esther becomes crucial. The fact that Reygadas is not the most charismatic of actors is no help, but the key point here is that Juan's jealousy becomes so obsessive that one has no sympathy for him at all. López as Esther is stronger but, when Esther comes to see through Juan but still calls him the love of her life, her fluctuations provoke not understanding but irritation. Long before the film draws to a close, she has for the time being turned on Juan by crying out 'Enough' no less than three times. Here at least this viewer felt a chord of sympathy for, while Our Time has earlier looked set to be a striking work, I found myself fighting a profound sense of alienation for the whole of its last hour.

 

Original title: Nuestro tiempo.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Carlos Reygadas, Natalia López, Phil Burgers, Yago Martínez, Eleazar Reygadas, Rut Reygadas, María Hagerman, Carolina Kleinman, Andrés Loewe, Eduardo Vázquez, Joaquín del Paso, Gabriela Jiménez.

 

Dir Carlos Reygadas, Pro Jaime Romandia and Carlos Reygadas, Screenplay Carlos Reygadas, Ph Diego Garcia and Adrian Durazo.

 

Bord Cadre Films/DetalleFilms/Film i Väst/Mer Film-New Wave Films.
177 mins. Mexico. 2018. Rel: 12 July 2019. Cert. 15.