Hell is for Heli
Directed by Amat Escalante. Starring Armando Espitia, Andrea Vergara, Juan Eduardo Palacios Club, IFI, Dublin, 105 min When, in the early stages of this harsh, nihilistic depiction of life in contemporary Mexico, a young girl happens upon a cute little puppy, informed viewers will brace them-
Little girl lost: Andrea Vergara as Estela
selves for impending canicide. Sure enough, within half an hour, gunwielding vandals have broken the unfortunate beast’s neck.
That’s what happens in harsh, nihilistic depictions of life in contemporary Mexico. A few moments later, a young man has his penis set on fire. At this point, when Heli screened at Cannes last year, more than a few timid reviewers placed hands over mouths and tiptoed for the exit.
It’s worth being facetious about such issues, because, otherwise hugely powerful, Heli lets itself down at these points. Amat Escalante, director of the equally troubling Sangre, has made an impressively sinister drama about the way (to paraphrase Philip Larkin) man hands misery onto man. Unfortunately, incidents such as the one with the doomed puppy seem more than a little gratuitous. It’s as if Escalante is cutting his own skin so that he may later ostentatiously pick at the scab.
The excellent Armando Espitia plays the titular car worker. As the film begins, Heli is living a humble but tolerable sort of life. Then Estela (Andrea Vergara), his young sister, becomes involved with an older police cadet named Beto (Juan