|Index||7 reviews in total|
This is not a film for everyone. The slow pacing can easily get to the nerve of the toughest film watcher. The tale of a released convict and his voyage to reunite with his family is completely ascetic and deprived of embellishments of any kind. Still, the images are hypnotic and set the viewer in a trance-like experience. Vargas' dryness is much more interesting that the dullness of many other protagonists of the so-called 'new argentine cinema'. It is everything that he conceals us what makes us interested in him. The narrative evokes the literature of Horacio Quiroga, an Uruguayan writer who frequently used the Mesopotamian jungle as his main character. Every inch of that jungle breathes, and compared to it, every human being in the picture is the dead referred by the title. Alonso has created a fascinating piece of machinery that flow quiet and slowly like that ever-present river, despite some pointless 'contemplative' scenes that might have been included to fill screen-time. Alonso's virtue is his ability to tell a story visually this is more silent than a Murnau film-, and his film-making makes full sense in the viewer's mind. He's miles away from the pretentiousness of the director that made 'Japón', a film with which it shares a number of elements. One admires his ability to walk over successfully that thin line that divides cinema from poetic arty trash.
"Los Muertos" made me think of various things -- Hemingway, John
Boorman's 1984 "The Emerald Forest," the Mexican Carlos Reygadas 2002
"Japón," the films of Bruno Dumont. This film shares "Japón's" use of
natural settings and non-actors for a powerful minimalist effect. It's
got the macho focus on simple survival tasks you find in Hemingway's
Spanish novels and early short stories set in the Michigan woods. When
"Los Muertos'" protagonist Vargas (Argentino Vargas) gets out of jail
he goes into the outback He travels downriver in a rowboat with a few
provisions, feeds himself from a tree, slaughters an animal and cleans
it in the boat. The crowded, open prison and the shops Vargas goes to
when he first gets out are busy -- "civilized." Then he enters his own
"Heart of Darkness" like the boy Tomme in "The Emerald Forest" and
becomes a different person -- shucking off clothes, money, possessions,
bringing out new skills. Like "The Man" in "Japón" Vargas is going to a
remote region on an ambiguous mission and the two movies both take long
looks at the land and listens to real rural people. Like Bruno Dumont,
Alonso isn't afraid of long still shots and 'longeurs,'and like Dumont
his sex is crude and real. Like Dumont's, Alonso's protagonist is
inarticulate and vaguely dangerous.
We see a lot of Vargas at first just sitting, sipping maté, staring into space at the prison, like you do. But Alonso's camera is also lithe and mobile from that first long hypnotic panning and tracking shot in the forest before the story begins and it continues to be supple and quick as it follows Vargas on his journey.
Style apart, Alonso takes us to a place we don't know and he keeps us there. He doesn't explain; his film suggests you can get very close to things and still not understand them, and sometimes that's the way it has to be.
The actor, Argentino Vargas, resembles Franco Citti, whom Pasolini often used in his films for sly, evil characters. Like Citti, he has a rough, sensuous quality. He's paunchy but muscular, tan, and agile; he's a handsome man gone to seed, a little 'indio', a little worldly. He's polite and neutral with people, but there's something not said, something blank and mysterious and menacing about him too, a sense of an unexplained purpose. This man is very, very alone, and his outdoor skills outline his ability to remain that way. We don't know what he's up to. We don't know what he's capable of.
This reserve, this mystery, is an essential element in much good storytelling that can make the simplest tale compulsive and memorable, which is what "Los Muertos" gradually becomes. Carlos Reygadas also uses it.
Since "Los Muertos" tells us so little and there are so few spoken words, little bits of information jolt us awake and our minds race. "So you're leaving!" a young man yells at Vargas at the prison. He comes too close, then disappears as if he was angry and was pulled away -- and we may think Vargas is planning to escape and word's gotten around. But instead he gets formally released.
Watching Vargas'journey suggests what travel or nature movies would be like if they had no music or commentary -- how much more powerful a camera can be without mediation, when it's just there without conventional framing devices. A long shot just shows Vargas in the rowboat, rowing on the river, coming toward us. There's nothing else. The camera is invisible, moving imperceptibly. The shot is powerful and extraordinarily beautiful and alive because it just is.
There's a boldness about Alonso's method. Some shots may seem too long. But there's an exhilarating sense of really being wholly inside the experience; of having lost ourselves completely in the story "Los Muertos" tells. I got that feeling when I first watched Boorman's "Emerald Forest," and it was a strange and alien -- and at the same time thrilling -- feeling to walk out of the theater into the nighttime city when the movie was over but I was still under its spell, my mind lingering in the Amazon forest.
Lisandro Alonso, who's only thirty years old, reminds us that great film-making can be a matter of letting the camera and what it sees speak for themselves. He throws out the paraphernalia. During the course of the film, we've seen and heard some surprising things. At the end, we're suddenly excluded. Vargas goes somewhere, and the camera doesn't follow him. It stops showing us what's going on. The camera has been our eyes and ears and this abrupt shutdown is a shock. You walk out of the theater and you carry that sense of shock with you. It's a brilliant ending to a haunting film.
Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival April 26, 2005.
Los Muertos is a contemplative and controlled film about men in their
environment. The film is incredibly understated, but never boring, in
that it is always moving. The lead character, Vargas, is simply moving
towards where he wants to go, first to deliver a letter one of the
inmates left behind gives him for his daughter, then to find his own
The poetry and grace in the storytelling is in simply watching this man, who has very little interactions with other humans, move forward. He is a man of little words, and of deliberate (and sometimes startling) action. The jungle is a powerful metaphor, of course, as is the river he travels in a small boat. The details of his journey are compelling and almost hypnotic - his smoking-out of a hive to get honeycomb, his sudden grabbing of a goat on the shore to kill it (my, I wish I had been warned of this scene - it happens in one cut and is not faked), etc.
An elliptical comment early on, in which a man cleaning a fish asks if he really killed his brothers, is answered by Vargas, "I don't remember all that anymore." That's about the extent of the backstory, and the film allows you to consider this man's place and if he can ever find what he's going towards. Less is more in this case, and the film-making ends up being powerful, and evoking Anonioni or Dreyer in its confidence that showing a person in his/her surroundings is sometimes drama enough.
This is an unapologetic slow burner of a movie. Its mysterious opening, sumptuous cinematography and wonderfully natural performances take on some of the burden left by the almost complete absence of dialogue or traditional narrative. Although, I admittedly felt antsy and uneasy at some points and you'll no doubt be asking yourself somewhere along the journey: "where's this going" or more impatiently perhaps "what's the point". I'm still not sure i have those answers, but this film definitely gets under your skin after you've left your seat. Speaking of which, I implore you to not leave that seat before all the credits have rolled. The accompanying music is simply amazing.
The film start.Place : somewhere in South America.The strange odyssey
of a mysterious man of some age begins here.He sets off for a journey.
Few characters on his way, almost no talking.The unwelcoming natural
environment always present.Some really spectacular scenery.
The movie goes on in the same slow pace from the beginning to the end. Two or three scenes are a bit loose and for me boring but otherwise the speed it's OK.It helps to create atmosphere and makes it look like a ritual.And ritual I think is the keyword for this strange and "unfriendly" film.Then comes the unexpected end to leave all questions unanswered.It's a real creepy movie that crawls underneath your skin whether you want it or not.If you are in for odd films do not miss this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Boring, long takes, pretentious as hell, pointless, ambiguous end. A
waste of time only a full of himself critic would say he enjoyed. Nice
photography. Zero plot, an effort at no character development and I do
not mean this metaphorically or that they tried and failed. Almost no
The supposed story is of a man who kills his brothers gets out of jail and is on his way to see his daughter. It sounds better than the movie is. One wonders if the director was a self indulgent asshole since he photographs each scene in what appears to be real time, or if he was an eight year old.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Haunting, meditative, enigmatic film, with very little dialogue. In the Argentine forest a man is released from a rural prison after serving times for killing his two brothers. Most of the movie is his boat journey home to find his daughter. When he gets there he encounters his grandchildren. Is he guilty, innocent? Will he kill the kids? Are they the bodies at the beginning of the film, or are those his brothers? The lack of answers could feel like a cop out, but left me with a nightmarish feeling of open ended horror. The style is simple and spare, with long wordless takes. But we know there's something going on, even if we never fully get the answers. Sort of a cinematic, visual equivalent of the plays of Harold Pinter. NB: The US Facets DVD is a disappointingly weak transfer
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