Juan (Carlos Reygadas) and Esther (Natalia López) own a bull ranch in the Mexican countryside, where they live with their three children. He’s an acclaimed poet, and she runs the business. Juan and Esther are in an open relationship, but his jealousy when she falls in love with a visiting horse trainer threatens to destroy their marriage.
For about an hour, Our Time is stunning. The film opens with a lovely sequence that follows two groups of kids, little ones and their elder siblings, playing around a lake. As Sean Baker did in The Florida Project, Carlos Reygadas shoots the kids at their level, placing us next to them as they chat about this and that. It’s a hot day and they have nothing to do but mess around, and we are allowed to share in that languorous, playful spirit.
The kids are dwarfed by the sweeping, wide-open Mexican landscape, and it’s that landscape that sustains us for the first hour. As the narrative around Juan, Esther and Phil begins to reveal itself, the characters spend most of their time outdoors, with the bulls. The ranchers have been waiting for rain, and when it arrives it’s glorious, pummelling the parched ground as if the sky itself is throwing punches. It’s all so wild and evocative and intense.And then the whole thing moves indoors. The world outside is taken away – we return occasionally, but it’s never for very long – and replaced with enclosed spaces and the claustrophobic three-way relationship. We are trapped. Escape is impossible.
There’s no earthly reason why Our Time needed to be three hours long. Nothing here demanded it. Once that first hour is over, the second two are just constant, fraught conversations about a relationship that is clearly damaged beyond repair. Esther and Juan rehash the same arguments over and over, only taking breaks so that Juan can spy on Esther and Phil whilst they have sex. There’s no forward momentum at all, no pace, no stakes. Only a terribly broken marriage and two people who don’t have the courage to end it.
So the question is, why should we care? Reygadas never provides us with an answer. Despite all the time we spend with the troubled threesome, despite their long monologues describing how unhappy they are, we never get to know them. Reygadas takes the main role here, with his wife being played by his wife, and you’re left with the queasy thought that this wasn’t meant for public consumption. This is them trying to figure something out amongst themselves. That’s why the characters are never given any character, because it’s not important that the audience finds them interesting, only that Reygadas does. It’s solipsistic filmmaking at its most lengthy and boring.
Although the first hour of Our Time is ravishingly beautiful, the following two are a masterclass in stifling tedium. Sitting through the whole 180 minutes should come with some kind of reward. You certainly don’t get it from the movie.