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Spotlight on cruelty
Michael Chase29 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Hard to know what to make of this film. It is very well acted and beautifully shot: every moment is completely believable. But it is also profoundly depressing. Heli, a young father and factory worker, and his 12-year-old sister are caught up in a ferocious explosion of violence when the sister's boyfriend, a young soldier, tries to steal some drugs. The theft is soon uncovered, and Heli and the boyfriend are subjected to some of the most brutal torture ever depicted on the screen. The plight of these young people is pretty well hopeless, since it's almost impossible to tell the difference between drug dealers, police and soldiers: even minding one's own business is not enough to protect ordinary people from being destroyed. The movie is, therefore, ultimately shocking and dispiriting, and one assumes this was Escalante's intention: to testify, unflinchingly, to the horrors of Mexico's drug war. But the brutality of the torture scenes comes close to being complacent: worst of all is that young children witness and participate in them as if such mutilation and killing was as normal as a game of sandlot baseball. One comes away with very little hope for Mexico's future, and with nagging questions about the relations between violence and art. Is the depiction of casual, merciless cruelty ever really justified?
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A bleak and deeply disturbing masterpiece
Martin Bradley3 September 2014
Amat Escalante won the Best Director prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and it's easy to see why. "Heli" is an absolutely brilliant and utterly uncompromising study of crime and poverty filmed with a documentary-like precision that makes its scenes of violence virtually unwatchable, (including a scene where a boy's genitals are set on fire). At its core are several extraordinary performances by a young cast who inhabit their roles so completely it's impossible to tell where the actor ends and the character begins. Heli is an 'outlaw' not in any criminal sense, (he is totally innocent), but in the sense that he exists outside the fringes of society and is sucked into a criminal underworld by circumstances totally outside his control, (his young sister's boyfriend has hidden drugs stolen from a drugs cartel inside Heli's home). This is humanist cinema but set in a place almost devoid of humanity. It's frightening, bleak and deeply disturbing but also essential viewing. A masterpiece
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Pretty movie
konmen20023 February 2014
Reviewers will probably emphasize the violence depicted in this movie, and there are about 3 brutal scenes, but they should not be considered the main 'attraction' of this movie. There are tons wonderfully beautiful pictures that overshadow the violence, and I will remember this movie by those. There's a laugh here and there as well (Beto showing his strength, the female detective) and it's cool that all though the events that took place change Heli's life forever, he seems to come out healed in the end. There's hope, which is shown in a beautiful last shot by the way. Go and see it on a big screen if you can !
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Hard going
Leofwine_draca12 September 2014
HELI is a Mexican crime film marketed as a dark and disturbing thriller that reveals the terrible fall-out that follows on from an ordinary family falling foul of drug dealing gang members. What reviews also failed to mention is that it's rather dull and stodgy, for the most part.

The problem with HELI is the attempted worthiness; this was conceived as Oscar bait, so there's a level of stillness and artiness throughout. I don't mind arty films per se, but they have to be interesting enough to keep my attention, such as Andrzej Zulawski's POSSESSION. While HELI certainly has plenty of redeeming qualities, such as some quite stunning landscape cinematography, there just isn't enough story to sustain the running time.

The set-up of the film, introducing a poor family in rural Mexico, is okay as things go. Then things get very dark and harrowing with the crime story, including some unflinching torture sequences which offer the sort of stuff we've never seen before. It's truly shocking and easily the best part of the film.

And yet it seems to fizz out after that. The last act goes back to the sedate feel of the early scenes and it proves a real anticlimax compared to what's gone before. I understand the writer/director's intention is to depict the effect of trauma upon ordinary lives, but the characters just aren't interesting or likable enough that you care. HELI had plenty of potential, but that's the issue I had with it: I just didn't care a jot for any of those involved.
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A Dark and Twisted Tale Set in Mexico with Beautiful Cinematography
R-P-McMurphy12 August 2013
A dark and twisted tale set in Mexico with beautiful cinematography. It might be very hard to watch for its long takes and some incredibly disturbing scenes.

"Heli" tells the tragic story of main character (Heli), a teenager, and his sister's boyfriend, a soldier, who gets Heli's family in trouble when he tries to steal some cocaine.

The movie was pretty slow for the first two acts, its up until the third act that the action starts. I did admire the technical aspects of it (the cinematography), but it wasn't really anything special as the critics are saying. It felt like they were trying to emulate what Carlos Reygadas does in his films, but I did get what they meant when they called it unflinching.

It was really heartbreaking to watch, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone for the brutal violence and animal cruelty it contains. I would've liked it a lot better if they would've hurried up with the story by editing a couple of scenes out, had the actors showed a little more emotion, or had the film made a more satiric approach like "El Infierno".

As I said, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, at least not to watch it in a movie theater, but if you're looking for an artsy, realistic crime story you might like it if you enjoyed movies similar to "Irreversible", "Traffic", "Despues de Lucia", "The Hunt", or "Amour".
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Newly married couple struggles in violent culture.
Raven-196927 July 2014
A newly married couple struggles to make a living in an arid landscape and cinder block home with barred windows. A violent culture of drugs and illicit sex simmers beneath the surface of their surroundings and lives. As do hidden psychological wounds, meddlesome bureaucrats and unfeeling, brutal thugs for cops. They are at pains to see it, yet the couple's meager existence is belied by other family members, chirping cactus wrens and Gambel's quail, friendly little dogs, and love. The forces of light and darkness lock in a vicious battle for supremacy in this family's life. Before the film began a woman from the area of Mexico where this story is set, testified that the film is true to the way things really are. Non-professional actors carry the weight of portraying the story and do so in a compelling way. Certainly this is one of the reasons why this film won the "best director" prize at Cannes. Other reasons include beautiful cinematography and an enthralling story. This is not a film for the squeamish. The story moves slowly yet, as with the setting sun, this does not detract from its beauty.
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What Mexican Cinema Needs
Gerardo Saucedo21 January 2015
This movie is a piece of art. Frame by frame you can clearly see Amat Escalante's and his team dedication.

The script is the best I have seen in any Mexican film. Beautifully captures the life in a broken country, where people can't go with the police and ask for help, where drug lords are the ones that run the government and people work all day to live a miserly life.

As a classical melody, the film moves slowly, giving you quiet strings at the beginning, some strong percussions in the middle and, in the end, just a piano playing sad arpeggios.

I hope to see more Mexican filmmakers develop projects like this in the future.
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very bleak...but very good
dave-234012 November 2013
Well...you wouldn't want to be poor and living in South America after watching this... that's for sure ! A not so jolly tale of drug barons , suppressed working class no-hopers , and victims . Bleak it may be...but gripping nonetheless . We are told the tale of Heli , and his family...who suffer major mis-fortune in a violent drug torn world. Your heart goes out to them all as you watch the suffering grow .

The film contains some graphic scenes (one of which will have all men squirming). However , the biggest audience gasp was heard when the little doggy had its brief moment on centre stage !

A feel good film it isn't .
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Powerful and unflinching but lacking purpose
tomgillespie20027 November 2017
Tongues quickly began flapping after the screening of Amat Escalante's Heli during the Cannes Film Festival, where it was in competition for the Palme d'Or. It's reputation as a brutal and unflinching look at the effects of the drug trade in Mexico even caught the attention of BBC News here in the UK, which is where I first heard of the film. Escalante went on to win Best Director at Cannes, and probably deservedly so. Heli is a beautifully directed film, and wonderfully shot by cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman. Yet it's matter-of-fact approach and insistence on painting all of its characters with broad shades of grey also makes it difficult to fully engage with. Almost everybody here is flawed in one way or another, and we are locked in a place that saw society crumble long ago.

Essentially a film of two parts, the first half lends much of its focus to 12 year-old Estela (Andrea Vergara) and her relationship with the much older police cadet Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios). When he isn't being put through brutal and frankly bizarre training routines (he is made to roll in his own sick), Beto promises Estela a better life. One stolen load of cocaine later, and the military (or the cartel - lines are deliberately blurred here) burst into Estela's family home, taking her and older brother Heli (Armando Espitia) off to God-knows-where. The destination is the home of low- ranking cartel members, who proceed to torture and mutilate Heli and Beto. The second half focuses on the aftermath, and the toll the experience takes on Heli. Widespread corruption and brutality leaves a lasting mark on everybody.

The majority of Heli's power comes from its sudden bursts of violence. Even animals and children aren't safe here, and the film sets the tone during its opening scene, a long-take journey on the back of the truck that ends with one of them hanged from a bridge. It's main talking point is the torture sequence, which is one of the grisliest scenes ever committed to film. Not only are genitals set ablaze in one long take, but children are in the room, slouching on sofas and barely batting an eyelid. It's strong and effective stuff, but there's comes a point when you start to wonder if the film has a point to make. The cartel trade has seemingly locked Mexico into a never-ending cycle of violence, but this is nothing new. Heli is best enjoyed from a purely technical point of view, with an uncomfortable, tense atmosphere throughout, even injecting certain scenes with Herzogian strangeness. Still, it's a lot to sit through only to feel the strange sense of emptiness I felt when the credits rolled.
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Yet another Mexican rotten story
pedro_rivera_romano16 December 2013
Heli is another Mexican violent film. Even though México is not the only country with mafia and crime, the Mexican producers can't show different perspectives of life since 80's. The plot is simple and silly, the end is predictable. Easy to write story, just a bunch of violent sequences, the characters are really stupid or with low IQ (Lots of Mexican movies made by Mexicans depicts the same irresponsible "malinchismo") The shocking scenes are just that, a cheap intent to impact the audience (blood, vomit or burns are always the easy way to cause an impact in audience -even by amateurs-, while professional writers prefer human stories, which requires talent that is not available in this embarrassing and silly film)
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Mexican director Amat Escalante is a success as his film 'shocks' anybody who watches it.
FilmCriticLalitRao22 January 2014
Heli directed by Amat Escalante-a Mexican director,is gripping from the start.The first few minutes show a young albeit bulky boy being mercilessly hanged from a bridge.It is only in the later half that the same bridge makes it re-entry and events are explained.Heli avoids many clichés with which viewers have accustomed themselves.This film does not give any idle space to a serious viewer as whatever that is happening on the screen has direct bearing on film's protagonists' to progress in life.One should also note that two probable reasons explain why 'Heli' was an immense hit during 66th Cannes International Film Festival 2013.Its success owes a lot to its choice of location as well as its shock effects.One gets to see remote parts of Mexico where not much choice is offered to anybody who wishes to make sense of everything around.Although it does not talk explicitly,role of sex and violence in Mexican society is also discussed in this film.For example: pornographic violence featured in the film is not easy to watch but one cannot also have other methods of dealing with violence in contemporary Mexico.Lastly,it is the episodic nature of different events in the life of a young man which makes an attempt to make screenplay as coherent as possible.However,it is just a mystery why these episodes are unable to make a coherent whole of this film ? It is this weakness which would irk many viewers.
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Will you trust someone or fight back by yourself.
Reno Rangan3 July 2014
An independent Mexican crime-drama. It was chosen to represent the country in the 86th academy awards. The story of a brother and sister. The responsibility of the brother was showcased when his family was torn by outraged men belong to the drug trafficking. Just another side story of the movie 'Trade' between a family, law and brutal world.

In a small desert town, Heli, in his 20s lives with his dad and a teen sister Estela. He's married and has a little baby. He and his dad work for the same automobile factory while his sister is at school. An army camp is held for nearby their village. Estela's secret relationship and army's raid on drug dealers, all these lead to get involved in an affair for this little family. The corrupted law is not an option to rely so Heli must stand his own and fight. The world he's after is not for a person like him, he had left no choice other than going for it.

It was a good movie in the aspect of exhibiting the contests. The synopsis says, it is a heroic movie. Heli won't just go into the underworld and smack everyone down. The presentation was in realistic approach. A very well told story with limited characters and dialogues. Yes the movie talks less and displays more, but not completely. Leaves many unsolved mysteries, though it makes you sure you understand without showing the other side of the narration. It's better as now than revealing everything because it could have been lots of violence. A couple of scenes were raw and violent. A bit disturbing as well.

The problem with this movie was the rest of the world received it well, but the natives did not. The reason is the country was portrayed in the bad shade. Like the one we always see in the Hollywood movies which denoted how dangerous is their neighbor. The flaw and the misuse in the law enforcement, especially people from isolated place had to face their problem by themselves. So Mexico's not the only one to have issues like this, but many other parts of the world do. The filmmaker hailed from there so he did this. Remember this movie is better compared to 'Trade' which was more disturbing. In the end, both these movies were not neglectable, because of the plot it showcase was one of the actual crimes that happens everywhere.
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Not for all tastes....and stomachs.
MartinHafer5 June 2017
"Heli" was the official submission from Mexico for the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Picture, though it was not selected to be nominated. It also received the Best Director award at Cannes. And, it's finally coming out on DVD. But should you see it? Yes… and no. For the right persons, it might be worth seeing…though for most folks, I don't think so. This is because although the film has a very simple story and it's told with minimal emotion and very low energy…and punctuated, on occasion, with extreme violence….among the most extreme I have ever seen in a film.

Heli is a hardworking young man with a wife, a child, a sister and father living with him. He has a good job working at the local assembly plant and his life is pretty ordinary. Little did he realize that due to his very young sister's infatuation with a young thug, his entire family would be torn apart in the space of only a few hours. That's because his sister's boyfriend is an idiot…an idiot who stole a couple kilos of cocaine from a local gang and hid them at Heli's house! And soon, both the gang and some very corrupt cops arrive and decide to teach them all a lesson. What follows is a very vivid scene of extreme torture…so extreme I won't go any further. Suffice to say it is not for those with a weak stomach. What follows is how Heli deals with all of this.

The film is interesting because it shows the horrible side of Mexico we don't often see in films. Drug gangs are a scourge…encouraged by consumption of all these drugs north of the border. But in the film the federal police whose job it is to stop these gangs are often shown as being as violent and soulless as the gangs…and sometimes are in league with them. I applaud the movie for talking about this unholy alliance.

Unfortunately, the film also has quite a bit working against it….primarily, but not exclusively, vivid torture. Safe to say, most folks don't want to see that! Additionally, the minimalistic acting style is a problem. When folks aren't doing horrible things to each other, often the characters (Heli in particular) are almost zombie- like with their lack of emotion. There also are a few rough edits and the film has a look that is a bit rough as well.

Overall, it's a real mixed bag. I wanted to like the film much more than I did. Toning down the horrific violence would be a good start at making it a better movie. Sure, you need to know how vicious and awful the gangs and police can be…but you also don't want to see every excruciating detail.
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minimalism as solution
Kirpianuscus24 April 2016
a minimalistic film. a simple story. a dark moment. and the fall of an universe. all in right doses. all convincing, dramatic and impressive. the only problem - the generosity of theme who reduced Heli as a moral manifesto. after the lost of Estela, the rhythm seems be reduced for analysis of trauma. the key moment is only shadow for torture and corruption of police and the search of sense of young family. a story who seems be coherent becomes a sort of improvisation. the image is surrogate for acting. each scene from the last part seems be fight for invent purpose of the first part. a good film, off course. for message. for the bitter taste. for drama. for exploration of crisis. but far to be great.
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Wonderfully acted, but without so much to say
paul2001sw-130 November 2014
'Heli' begins as a touch portrait of the life of a Mexican family; but turns into something darker when they fall into the path of a murderous gang of drug dealers. The film's third section charts what happens afterwards, and is arguably the least satisfactory portion of the movie: it's not that the film is unconvincing, but it's unclear what is added beyond what one might have expected. The ambiguous mood of the ending is arguably a sign of failure rather than success: of a film uncertain of its own point. What is good, on the other hand, is the warm and naturalistic acting, and a believable portrait of everyday dreams and their ending.
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Let's just say this isn't a date movie...
euroGary30 June 2014
On his BBC radio show Terry Wogan once described Kenny Rogers' country classic 'Coward of the county' (the song with the unfortunate Becky) as being "about beat-up folk". So too is 'Heli', a film set in México. Its eponymous hero is a young man who works the night shift in order to support his wife (who won't sleep with him) and child. His school-age sister is going out with an army cadet who, Heli discovers, has hidden some cocaine on the family's property...

Except for a couple of action-packed sequences (including a prolonged torture scene that will have every man watching wincing in horrified sympathy) this is a slow-moving film. Common film-makers' mistakes such as shots that last just that little bit too long, and needless sequences (eg: an un-named extra larking about on a police lectern, adding nothing to the story) are in evidence. And it's hard to tell whether Heli's (mostly) passive acceptance of what happens to him and his family is because he is a decent man beaten down by a corrupt system (at one point even the female police officer tries to seduce him) or because actor Armando Espitia doesn't have a wide enough range for the role. But the story is interesting and the film well worth watching; and even if you don't enjoy it, there's a sex scene right at the end which you can look on as a reward for getting that far.
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A bad copy of the same, I feel disappointed and embarrassed
Gabo Meza18 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I really expect something else, I can't believe that the critics in Mexico believe and liked this movie, in Mexico during the 70's and 80's had the movies of "FICHERAS", now we have the movies of "NARCOS". Really we as country and as movie lovers don't deserve something better than a bad and boring copy of the same drama?!!? I really believe this movie doesn't deserve to represent Mexico at the Oscar. If this is the view that we expect the world have about Mexico it's really sad, I believe that we have more interesting movies, with soul, maybe someone called pink or a fantasy, but I live in Mexico and I never see or known that someone had a experience like this. This happens? of course, but why use violence in a movie, when all around the world are taking about the values. why Mr. Escalante didn't made a movie about a loving family, with problems and how close are we as Latinos, as Mexicans. Because always the violence, the bad and rotten aspects of the society sales better. Honestly, please avoid waste your time and your money!!!
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Drugs Around? Stay Away!
westsideschl4 September 2017
The realism of a documentary. You're not sure if what you are seeing is a staged movie or hidden camera reality. Story based around a small working family's life in poverty Guanajuato Mexico as they are caught between drug cartels and various government enforcement agencies (some of which act in ways not too different from the cartels). Some people are beaten; some people are killed; a young girl is raped (not reenacted). On the negative side a couple of scenes seemed pointlessly out of place and didn't contribute to the story.
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