Heli (2013) Dir. Amat Escalante

Keeping viewers on the edge of their seats, from the very first scene in which a bound-and-gagged man is carried to the top of an overpass and hung for all to see, his acclaimed third film by self-taught director from Guanajuato, Amat Escalante, has been the talk of the film town since its screening at Cannes in 2013.
Kinga Zaczkowska

Heli (Armando Espitia) is a young auto factory worker in his early twenties who leads a modest existence together with his wife, infant son, father and 12-year-old sister Estela in an unknown Mexican desert region. Estela (Andrea Vergara) has just fallen in love with a 17-year-old police cadet named Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios) with whom she plans to escape. In order to fund the elopement the Beto steals two parcels of cocaine from the police hideout and puts them in her family’s water tank, which triggers a series of events transforming the family’s life forever.
When Heli manages to dispose of the dangerous packages and we think we can breathe a sigh of relief, all the hell breaks loose. Guns are fired, a body falls, a neck is snapped and finally we witness a moment of unsettling violence witnessed by a woman more sensitive to the sounds of boiling water than screams of a tortured man. In this scene the youngest boy, with an innocent childlike face, without hesitation raises a cricket-bat to beat up an unknown, unconscious man who has never done him any harm…

You will probably look away several times when watching this film, just like I did. You will be disgusted, appalled, shocked scenes where little is left to our imagination. Amat Escalante mentions in one of his interviews his aim was to explore what it means to live in a permanent climate of fear where decapitations, killings and hangings are part of every-day life.
When the worse is over we observe how the family tries to mend itself in the atmosphere of constant fear, helplessness and distrust towards everyone, including the police forces. Heli is tormented by questions without answers: whom to trust, where to seek help, how to find the sister.

When Estela finally emerges on the family house doorstep, mute and pregnant yet whole, at least physically, family life gets back to normal… but what does normality mean then? Through the untold traumatic events the 12-year-old girl has gone through and reaction of the family Escalante draws the viewer’s attention to the common problem of child pregnancy in Mexico. Amat mentions in one of the interviews that the real mother of the baby boy who appears in the film, is only 14. Abortion is forbidden and severely punished in more than a half of Mexican states, including the one in which the action of the film takes place. Pregnancy is often caused by the simple lack of basic medical knowledge and also the absence of intimacy between family members we clearly see in the film.

The script is well-written and structured, and the cast of amateur actors is excellent, especially the performance of Armando Espitia who plays the main character. And for those who find the violence difficult to stomach, bored you won’t be. There are even a few moments that will make you smile.

Whether we like it or not drug-fueled violence is a part of Mexican reality and such films, shocking and true to the core need to be shown. But, we just also need to bear in mind that Mexico is much more than that…

Heli - 2013 - Official Trailer - English Subtitles