Our Time Review
The complex nature of love is a topic that has been subject to investigation over millenniums. There can be no correct answer as to how the emotion of love forms but through the investigation we can, at the very least, come to comprehend its size, scope and most importantly, its ability to change. One such investigation is Carlos Reygadas’ 2018 marital epic “Our Time”. Here the auteur tells the story of Juan (Carlos Reygadas) and his wife Esther (Natalia López) as their love slowly begins to fall apart, as a result of Esther’s affair with American horse trainer Phil (Phil Burgers). Despite their open marriage, Juan and Esther find themselves on the brink of collapse as Esther comes to realise that she intensely craves more independence both sexually and domestically.
From its first shot till its last “Our Time” plays like visual poetry. Reygadas has a spectacular eye for the sublime and has worked wonders with cinematographers Adrian Durazo and Diego García. Reminiscent of Terrence Malick, this movie says just as much with the camera as the characters do with dialogue and it is a force that is impossible to ignore. The sheer amount of emphasis provided by the shots is outstanding, developing the perfect platform for the actors as they emotionally shrivel before our eyes. At times the sheer art of it all does get carried away; some shots linger just a bit too long, and others do not add much to the narrative. I would be lying if I said that I was not struck by impatience at times; at points, it felt as if individual shots took priority over the story in the editing process. Despite this, there is no arguing against the fact that it is entirely masterful cinematography.
The performances here are well worth applauding. The real-life husband and wife are both in top form with their starring performances. Here López and Reygadas provide realistic and emotion-laden turns that capture the turmoil throughout the film perfectly. Their work is even more stunning upon realising that neither of them is a professional actor, with this being the feature debut for López and only the second credited role for Reygadas. Their ability to convincingly portray a married couple is, to an extent, understandable. The real skill in both performances lies in the fact that they could so convincingly have their characters’ marriage fall apart on screen, especially at the sluggish pace the movie travels.
Their marriage is in a slow decline, one that analyses every bump in its long road and searches it for meaning. For a long period throughout the 173-minute runtime, Esther proclaims her love for Juan. All the while, she slowly realises the truth within herself that the force behind their love is no longer there. This level of depth and scale would be a difficult task for the most seasoned actors, so to see two non-actors pull it off as well as they did is astounding.
The script is one that finds conflict within itself and never manages to unravel it to the audience. Opting to play primarily from Juan’s perspective leaves the message stunted and less accessible. Esther’s inner conflict is the heart of this movie, and yet she is not the heart of the screen and in this sense, Reygadas has contradicted himself. Instead, Juan, his emotional reactions and self-evaluation are the heart of the film, and this makes certain portions come across as hollow and at times, even needless. These moments lack the input of Esther, it is her feelings that are the beginning and end of this conflict, and through focusing on Juan, the philosophical insight that Reygadas attempts to generate fails to flourish.
However, Juan does take us through some compelling and engaging moments. One being when Juan insists Esther sleeps with Phil so that he can spy on them in bed together, allowing him to see who she truly loves. It is a scene filled with Juan’s demons and is one of the few moments he can encapsulate the film’s struggle. Overall his perspective makes for a screenplay that, at its worst is a frustrating tale of the man who does not have much to say about the emotional distortion that fuels the film, while at its best is a new and unique look at the depths of masculinity amid emotional crisis.
It may run long but to the right audience “Our Time” is well worth the watch. Mixing idyllic beauty with tumultuous romance makes for wonderous viewing, and although prone to getting lost within itself and lacking enough perspective to investigate love clearly, Carlos Reygadas has created something too beautiful to write off.
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