Heli (Armando Espitia) is a 17-year-old man living with his father, his sister, his wife and their son. Heli’s 12-year-old sister Estela (Andrea Vergara) is dating Beto (Juan Eduardo Palacios) a man the same age as her brother and, when she says she will marry him, Beto steals drugs to fund their wedding, thus involving the entire family in the violent and dangerous drug fuelled underworld.
Screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, Heli went on to win Best Director for Amat Escalante. Much of the cast of the film are first time actors, and their inexperience, coupled with Escalante’s seeming unwillingness to actually direct, makes for a very odd viewing experience.
The story is undoubtedly one that needs to be told, and it explores not only the violent underworld of Mexico, but the over sexualisation and desensitising of children. The torture scenes are unpleasant to watch, but what is more shocking is watching a couch filled with kids calmly observing the violence, and idly wondering what the victim did.
Amat Escalante, as writer and director, has created a film that has some strong messages that go completely under explored, and a film that really could have functioned as a short. Other than a couple of scenes, very little happens throughout of the film, and some of the action is odd and unexpected, then ignored for the rest of the film. At 100 minutes, Heli contains a story that could have been told in 15.
Heli is a film that explores some complex and important issues, but completely fails to do anything other than scratch the surface. It seems as though director and screenwriter Amat Escalante willing to acknowledge that there is an elephant in the room, but do little to find out where it came from or where it should go. Heli is an important chance that has been utterly wasted.