The details are telling: the American advisor who implements the most disgusting and degrading humiliations on his cadet students; the doctors who refuse abortions to rape victims; the politicians who will burn drugs as a photo opportunity but will do nothing to address the real problem. The brutality on display in Heli is at times almost impossible to watch, as it should be. A horrific torture scene takes place - made worse by the fact that it is interrupting a computer game - and there's a disapproving mother who occasionally peeks from the kitchen to see what the young lads are up to. There's also a subplot about Heli and his wife's sex life, as they attempt some normality in the midst of the madness.
Escalante avoids numerous well-worn social realist clichés and creates (at times) genuine beauty, evoking the place with a an eye for atmosphere. Yet ultimately, it's the pain and madness of the foreground - a country in a state of pitiless war with itself and in which there is very little place for ordinary life - which will dominate. By simply avoiding complete despair Heli hints at hope, but remains an intense and disturbing experience nonetheless.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.