Heli (2013)

A Mexican family is irreversibly changed when drugs unwittingly enter their lives in this stunningly assured piece of cinema (winner of Best Director at Cannes) that may shock even the most seasoned of viewers.  

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,316

Dir. Amat Escalante
2013 | Mexico | Drama/Crime | 105 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be R21 for sexuality, nudity and disturbing scenes

Cast: Armando Espitia, Andrea Vergara, Linda Gonzalez, Juan Eduardo Palacios, Reina Torres
Plot: Estela is a 12-year-old girl who has just fallen crazy in love with a young police cadet in rural Mexico. He wants to run away with her and get married. Trying to achieve this dream, Estela’s family will have to face the vicious circle of drugs and violence that is devastating the region.
Awards: Won Best Director & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: Luxbox

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Action & Consequences; Mexican Drug Milieu
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Although already a film festival darling in his still burgeoning career with his Best Director wins at Cannes and Venice for Heli and The Untamed (2016) respectively, Amat Escalante remains one of modern Mexican cinema’s best-kept secrets. 

Heli, his third feature, is a stunningly assured piece of cinema that may shock even the most seasoned of viewers. 

Not exactly a tightly-paced film to begin with, Heli somehow has a natural internal momentum that careens the narrative forward into an ultra-bleak inevitability that none of the characters can escape from.  This is, to me, the most thrilling aspect of the film—that it sucks you in, and there’s no way out. 

We get a taste of it already in the first sequence featuring bodies in a truck.  The setting is somewhere in Mexico, rifled with violence, torture and drugs.  True enough, a Mexican family is irreversible changed when a package of drugs unwittingly enter their lives. 

“Why are you hiding?”

How it comes into play is an escalating game of action and consequence, part of the design of Escalante’s script that deliberately eschews the conventions of a typical ‘drug cartel and police’ genre-type flick. 

In fact, Heli is refreshing in its treatment, through the formal and artful visual style, and the localising of personal and psychological aspects of the story rather than the depiction, at least overtly, of social or political elements. 

The film already assumes the narrative’s milieu would come to the fore without having to provide viewers with too much info. 

‘Heli’ is the name of the protagonist, but it could very well be misspelt—it’s just one stroke away from ‘Hell’; likewise, the characters in the film are one mistake away from enduring a living death. 

Grade: A



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