Our Time (dir. Carlos Reygadas)
A film about cuckolding is always bound to go wrong. After the highly anticipated premiere at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, Carlos Reygadas’ Our Time has been described as a Mexican soap opera full of machismo and recycled motifs from his other works. Never one to be fully embraced by western critics however, Reygadas’ fifth film proves to be his most generous to date. Even the most dubious choices of an auteur behind such transfixing films can teach more about cinema and life than perhaps any foolproof film at AFI.
Our Time and Reygadas’ previous film, Post Tenebras Lux take place in the Mexican countryside where the director and his family live. The camera unhurriedly captures the passing of time along the expansive landscape of wild beasts, free children, the working class, and troubled, wealthy husbands and wives. While these similarities can be taken as lazy repetition, they are striking reminders that Reygadas comes from a different world. This is his life, and from this singular place, he transmutes his world into cinema. Starring in a film with his wife and talented film editor, Natalia López, heightens this conflation between his real life and his art—no matter how practical these casting decisions may have been.
For those who know his face, Our Time allows Reygadas and his family to be projected upon far more than any other characters in his oeuvre, infusing what is his most linear narrative with the astounding psychology behind cuckoldry. To play Juan and Esther is to expose oneself to the masochism of bad decision making and the vulnerability of mockery—as a filmmaker, as nonprofessional actors, and as a family unit bound to nearly three hours of voyeurism—ours. To stay until the end was to try on the taboo for size. For those who didn’t walk out, it was hard to look away.
The film is not about adultery as much as it is about autonomy. Juan, Esther, and the third-party played by Phil Burgers (to cringeworthy effect), are willing participants. Esther is given the entire duration of the film to decide how she feels, despite Juan growing more pathological. She is shown as a woman coming into her own, thinking alone on screen, and in charge of their ranch. Exquisitely hilarious emails, a child’s voiceover, and non-diegetic music explain the feelings of all involved—shockingly direct for a filmmaker who leaves much unsaid. As messy as this fantasy is, it is consciously composed.
To exist is to feel a desperate attachment to the material world. To admit so openly to the severity of this raw pain is a brave act. Reygadas earnestly commits to this even in embarrassingly melodramatic scenes, where Our Time is at its most awkward and fascinating. Still, for 173 minutes, Reygadas nourished this American audience with nuanced imagery of Mexicans—complex depictions that are ever more powerful amidst vicious political fearmongering. When the film ended, the crowd emptied Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in silence into the vacuousness of Hollywood Boulevard. Among the professional wannabes, bleak tourist traps, and drunk frat boys, Reygadas’ universe couldn’t be farther away, and somehow, purer. —Christine Haroutounian