Cannes Film Festival 2013: 15th May Reactions (‘Heli’)

Amat Escalante

Amat Escalante

Hello, all. I’m going to be collecting together reviews and tweets regarding most of this year’s Cannes selection.

The Great Gatsby has been on wide release in the US for a week now, and opens nationwide across the UK tomorrow. I gather many of you are already well aware of the critical consensus on Luhrmann’s latest soiree. That leaves us with the only other press screening of the day: Amat Escalante’s Heli. We have our first gratuitously grotesque groin shot of the festival – always nice to get those out of the way early. Reygadas by way of Miss Bala seems to be the common description. Reygadas is enough of a divisive figure anyway, so it’s no surprise that this one’s splitting a few of the critics (although most share a negative view).

This post will be updated with new reviews, as and when they come in:


John Bleasdale, Cine-Vue

“By simply avoiding complete despair Heli hints at hope, but remains an intense and disturbing experience nonetheless.”

Catherine Bray, Film4

“With its serene composition and very deliberate one-two punches, this isn’t a message movie, although if it was, it would simply be ‘drugs are bad, m’kay?’”

Brad Brevet, Rope of Silicon

“The question, I guess, becomes just how much you’re willing to take as an audience member and how much the director expects you to endure. Is walking away from such violence giving up? Is taking action, or at the very least acknowledging it the answer? Certainly, to do nothing will only result in more.”

Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“Escalante presents all this without a shiver of sensationalism: throughout the film his camera tends to be lurking in the middle distance; coolly observing everything that passes through its inquisitive frame, leaving the messy business of reaction to us.”

Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter

“Escalante is working with very strong dramatic material here, but he never quite shapes it into an engrossing narrative. The abrupt ending is clearly a stylistic statement, but it feels like an evasion.”

Charles Ealy, Austin360

“It takes quite a bit of cash to distribute a movie these days, and “Heli” will be hard to sell because of its graphic scenes. There’s an old rule in Cannes that you never kill a dog in your movie. In “Heli,” two are killed.”

Scott Foundas, Variety

“Even Escalante’s own two previous Cannes-premiered features, “Sangre” and “Los bastardos,” proffered similar portraits of violent despair on both sides of the border, adding to the feeling that this clearly talented helmer has gone to this particular well one too many times.”

William Goss, MSN Movies

“Yet, by the end, “Heli” ultimately comes off as an empty piece of provocation, devoid of the prolonged visceral charge of a film like “Bala,” revealing nothing new about the cartels and corruption that continue to hold a cruel reign over local citizens.”

Alex Griffith, Next Projection

“Except for a few of the particular cruelties, Heli captures drug war moments we’ve probably already seen in a similar light in The Wire or Breaking Bad—except Escalante can nudge the camera here, put on a brilliant pop song there—and suddenly give us something familiar and new.”

Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist

“Moments of humor and surrealism (Heli’s wife visiting a palm reader randomly sees a drumkit and a man wearing wild cowboy boots at the edges of the scene) at least partially give the audience a break, but by an large, “Heli” is a despairing, bleak watch.”

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

“Politically, the film is jejune and transparent, saying little more in the end than “drugs are bad”.”

Guy Lodge, HitFix

“All sandy surfaces and doomy lilac clouds, “Heli” could hardly be more pristinely framed and lit by cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman, but its glassiness is a cop-out, objectifying characters that are already objects in a rigid moral composition.”

Shaun Munro, Film School Rejects

“Though it tapers off slightly in its final portion, and the no-holds-barred approach won’t be for everyone, this director’s depiction of the cyclical nature of violence will implant images into viewer’s minds that won’t soon disappear.”

Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily

“What works strongest for Heli is its understated compassion towards its hapless characters, thanks to a sympathetic cast whom Escalante encourages to underplay, at times, almost to a Bresson-like degree.”

Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

“Director Amat Escalante… has shot a damning indictment of contemporary Mexico, capturing its institutionalised corruption, its endemic cruelty.”

Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge

“Performances from the almost entirely non-professional cast range from serviceable to stiff, however, in a picture that’s generally a little too muted and inert to ever pack much in the way of genuine emotional impact.”


Ryland Aldrich, TwitchFilm

Amat Escalante’s HELI is a deliberate & naturalistic (read: #Cannes bait) drug war drama that shows off director’s confidence. #TeamRyland

Alex Billington, FirstShowing

Heli – Another drugs-are-bad Mexican drama. Jumps backnforth from totally boring to shocking no reason. Great camerawork but glad it’s over.

Justin Chang, Variety

#Cannes2013 competition off to a lovely start with HELI. Come for the gratuitous animal cruelty, stay for the genital immolation.

Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

Heli, by Amat Escalante, might be the most optimistic film you ever see in which one man sets another’s genitals on fire. #Cannes2013

Jordan Cronk, Slant

HELI (A. Escalante) Youthful romance turned intergenerational vendetta. Film “climaxes” twice, neither quite to satisfaction. C+

Mike D’Angelo, The A.V. Club

Heli (Escalante): 44. When bad things happen to made-up people. Like his previous films, as formally impressive as it is pointless.

William Goss, MSN Movies

Heli: “I don’t like to simplistically vilify an entire country, but Mexico’s a horrible place.” #Cannes

Glenn Heath Jr., Fandor

HELI (B+): Mexican manlihood challenged, singed, then brutally reborn through violence. Embrace is combat, and vice-a-versa.

Jake Howell, Movie City News

And with one of the most shocking torture scenes in recent memory, HELI kicks things off with a rattle. A fine film, to be sure. #Cannes2013

Peter Howell, Toronto Star

HELI: Eye-searing start to #Cannes2013 comp by Reygadas ally Escalante. Descent into Mexican drug wars hell.

Nick James, Sight & Sound

HELI is this year’s KINOTAY, a sombre film about an innocent family tangled in drug gang violence, very carefully put together

Daivd Jenkins, Little White Lies

HELI (Escalante) Salo, Antichrist – meet your new best bud. The groincore genre is born. Cheap, formless, Reygadas-lite.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Escalante’s HELI effectively out-Reygadases Reygadas w/unnerving working class murder/kidnapping drama, gets coy in later scenes. #cannes

Ben Kenigsberg, RogerEbert.com

HELI: The world was a kinder place when MISS BALA and KINATAY were separate films. #Cannes

Guy Lodge, HitFix

HELI (C/C+) Comfortably numb: accomplished, times jolts carefully, but short on perspective and, er, penetration. Mendoza Zero, basically.

Shaun Munro, Film School Rejects

HELI – 3.5/5. Hard-hitting Mexican drama tackles rusty ideas but in an arresting manner and with sledgehammer force.

David Neary, Diary of a Film Cricket

Heli: Immensely satisfying drama of rural Mexican family strife. Swaying from comedy to horrific torture, it is well shot and superbly acted

Michal Oleszcyzk, RogerEbert.com

It’s doubtful that any movie will get ahead of HELI in sadistic violence. Penis on fire really is difficult to top.

Matt Patches, Hollywood.com

Mexican drama HELI is like other side of the MISS BALA coin. Violent outbursts in place of compliance. Striking while thin. #Cannes2013

Jonathan Romney, The Independent

(My personal) jury still out on Amat Escalante’s HELI – disturbing, brutal and (by all accounts) realistic view of Mexican drug wars…

Craig Skinner, Hey U Guys

HELI (B+) Raw & intense. A horrible but powerful experience. A bleak opening hanging sets the tone but it just gets worse. And worse.

Nigel Smith, Indiewire

#Heli wasn’t hell but it came close. Harrowing kickoff to my 1st #Cannes No boos, just mild applause.

Fred Topel, Crave Online

My first #cannes movie HELI was an intense, powerful, graphic portrayal of violence. It out-Gaspar Noes Gaspar Noe. #cannes2013

Neil Young, Jigsaw Lounge

HELI a cut above Escalante’s BASTARDOS but still a “low-key” start to my #Cannes2013. Damp screening, many having queued in the pesky rain.

Jeune et Jolie (Francois Ozon) – IN COMPETITION
The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola) – UN CERTAIN REGARD
Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) – UN CERTAIN REGARD
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke) – IN COMPETITION

The Congress (Ari Folman) – DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT
Top of the Lake Eps 1&2 (Jane Campion & G. Davis) – DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT
Salvo (Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza) – CRITICS’ WEEK
Suzanne (Katell Quillévéré) – CRITICS’ WEEK


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