A cathartic look at Juan and Ester’s emotionally thorny open marriage.
Couples therapy is expensive, but Mexican director Carlos Reygadas has managed to save on the costs by allowing a number of international production companies fund his no holds barred soul searching. With Our Time, he’s cast himself and his wife in the lead roles, and crafted a thinly veiled autobiographical piece that is unsparing in its dissection of his own insecurities – and strips away much of the experimentalism of his previous work in order to cut straight to the heart of his conflicted emotions.
There’s no denying that this is cinematic oversharing on par with many of Woody Allen’s more autobiographical efforts, albeit stripped of laughs and extended to three hours of uncompromised emotional torture. But it represents an intriguing change in direction for Reygadas after the much feted Post Tenebras Lux, handling many similar themes (and a title character with the same name), but shorn of that film’s more surreal and sexually explicit imagery to directly articulate the complexities of the director’s own marriage.
Reygadas stars as Juan, a widely lauded poet and owner of a ranch where he raises bulls. His quaint rural lifestyle is compromised, however, when he discovers that his wife Ester (Natalia López) is clearly attracted to Phil (Phil Burgers). The pair already have an open relationship, but his jealousy is now barely contained when he senses that she may have deeper feelings for him beyond a sexual attraction, believing that she looks at Phil the way she no longer can at him. Juan becomes obsessive over this affair, with consequences that threaten the stability of his marriage.
Our Time feels like the closing chapter of an unofficial trilogy dissecting infidelity. 2006’s Silent Light, which he has stressed feels more autobiographical to him than his latest, dealt with the consequences of an affair in a conservative religious community, while 2012’s Post Tenebras Lux made for an abstract commentary on an open relationship. In that film’s most memorable scene, the central couple took a detour to a swingers club, where the lead character struggled to conceal his emotional insecurities as his wife received much attention from other men at the party. If Our Time is the least autobiographical of the three, a claim seemingly devised to deflect attention from Reygadas’ less than flattering depiction of himself, then it’s hard to detect – but considering how unsparing it is in analysing his tortured, jealous mindset, it’s fairly understandable why he’d want to distance himself from it. You get the sense that he made the film primarily to cleanse himself of these demons.
The narrative is thin, but the emotional turbulence mostly sustains the film for the majority of its running time, playing out like a miserabilist Bergman drama transplanted in the Mexican countryside. There are beautiful moments that are of a piece with his previous work. The 15 minute opening in particular, that follows a group of children playing in the mud, is essentially a reprise of Post Tenebras Lux’s introductory sequence – a moment of youthful innocence before the director dissects the harsh complexities of adult relationships. Later in the film, letters between the lovers are read in voiceover, an initially clumsy visual tactic that eventually leads to the most simple and effective moment: Ester’s words read over the nighttime skies of a vast cityscape, transforming into a POV shot of an aeroplane’s turbulent landing. His visual allegories are far less fanciful this time, never becoming overblown in spite of their simplicity, in order to cut straight through to the analysis of his own relationship.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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