« Ma Mère, 2004 | Main | Deux, 2002 »

February 19, 2005

Los Muertos, 2004

losmuertos.gifLos Muertos opens to the visually atmospheric and strangely surreal image of an unpopulated tropical forest, tracking sinuously (and disorientingly) through the lush wilderness, momentary revealing the dead bodies of two young people splayed amid the obscuring brush, before returning to the idyllic shots of foliage that becomes unfocused and diffused, imbuing the image with a sense of organic, subconscious somnambulism. The film then takes on a more mundane and naturalistic tone with the shot of Argentino Vargas waking (perhaps from the haunted dream), assembling chairs at a workshop, and eating in silence, before an intervened confrontation reveals that the setting is a rural prison, and Vargas is serving the final days of his sentence for the murder of his siblings. Eventually released from prison, the taciturn Vargas sets out to honor a promise that he had earlier made to a fellow inmate and deliver a letter to the old man's daughter before embarking on his long, lonely journey home. Lisandro Alonso creates an evocatively atemporal and even otherworldly experience through the film's indigenous primitivism. Like the seeming mystery of the dead bodies in the jungle of the opening sequence, the film represents a subversion of expectation, most notably in Vargas' seemingly arrested memories of - and anticipated reunion with - the daughter he left behind (his purchase of candies and a fashionable blouse for her seems to indicate a young girl or teenager and only later does it become evident that she is already a grown woman). It is this process of supplanted expectation that is perhaps alluded to in the film's contextual reference to the titular dead: a laconic and unstructured presentation of images without narrative form, rather like cinematic ghosts, existing outside of time and physical space in the ephemeral, dense, and impenetrable medium of personal memory.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Film Comment Selects


Some of my readings about Los Muertos suggested that Vargas killed his young siblings, which brought in the whole, perhaps unnecessary, debate about criminal psychology in the film. (Some North American critics even suggested Vargas was some sort of a serial killer). But Alonso insisted that Vargas' actions are simply a by-product of primitivism in that area of Argentina, something you too allude to (as film's "indigenous primitivism").

I'd also like to see Alonso's first feature La libertad, which I've seen compared to a museum object and deemed non-experimental at the same time.

Few unrelated comments:

  • I greatly admire and adore Julio Medem. Couldn't help but notice that you have no entry for Lucía y el sexo (even in your journal pages). I had mixed reactions to the film on the whole, finding it visual stunning but also opaque in many ways - was curious about your reaction.

  • The 'Upcoming releases' list on your journal page is very useful. Additionally, it would be great if there was also an 'Upcoming screenings' list (that you think is worth attending or are going to attend). I realize that you may only be able to accurately catalogue listings in your vicinity. I live in San Francisco and with the relative dearth of good foreign film screenings (besides the PFA at Berkeley), wouldn't mind travelling to other cities occasionally. I imagine other readers would find it useful as well.

Posted by: Mohit Sabharwal on Mar 02, 2005 1:26 PM | Permalink

I do remember a scene (maybe with the fisherman?) when he does sort of trivialize the fact that he killed his siblings by saying that it was distant past to him. If I remember correctly, the two bodies in the opening scene were one male and one female though, and I could have sworn that he supposedly killed his two brothers (although I suspect that this is a translational gender assignment, "irmãos" is likely the word for siblings too). That's where the Irréversible parallel comes in too I think, where it's ambiguous whether you are looking at the beginning or end of the story since the story is told from an internal point of view that's somewhat alien.

Regarding Lucía y el sexo, yes, that was a conscious omission :), although I haven't seen the film in a couple of years. I really didn't care for the relationship between Lucía and Lorenzo, but I do think that the film started getting interesting with the Elena and Lucía storyline, and I liked the way that their stories eventually interconnected. Still, it seemed a bit sloppy and underformed to introduce those literal plotholes that allowed the characters to jump into and out of the story on a whim.

I was actually thinking about putting up some kind of "broadcast notices" on screenings in the DC area earlier this year when Peter Kubelka was appearing at the National Gallery, but couldn't really decide on how to implement it. I have a good idea on what's happening (art) film-wise around DC and I tend to pay close attention to what's going on in NYC since it involves planning a trip on my part. I like the idea of it, but I'm also wary of introducing an open message board for fear of inviting comment spam (I had to tighten up comment registration recently for the same reason). By the way, Rob Davis (S.F.) and Doug Cummings (L.A.) both hail from California, so they should be good sources for off the beaten path cinema. But I'm certainly open to suggestions (like maybe a simple check off list in the journal area?).

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 02, 2005 3:26 PM | Permalink

A simple check off list would be great! Sometimes retrospectives travel. Something screenings in DC and NYC are too good to be missed. (Even asides from Walter Reade and National Gallery. For instance, it was enlightening to learn about the Anthology Film Archives through your Kurt Kren journal entry.)

Thank you for your very helpful pointers to Rob Davis' and Doug Cummings' sites.

I am guilty of spamming this thread, but had two questions:

  • In am relatively new to the analysis of film and very interested in expanding my frame on film criticism ,so to speak. In your 'Film Related Reading Notes', I find a very useful body of knowledge on specific filmmakers. Are there any film theory books you'd like to recommend that would be a good introduction to film criticism ?

  • Also, what festivals (within North America or abroad) do you attend (or recommend) for off the beaten path cinema ?

Thanks again!

Posted by: Mohit Sabharwal on Mar 02, 2005 11:20 PM | Permalink

I don't know if I'm the best source for film book recommendations since my reading selections have always been more of a reflection of what interests me at the moment (or what I'm thinking of tackling next). I can wholeheartedly recommend André Bazin's What is Cinema?, but other than that, I'm reluctant to mention others like the often recommended Bordwell and Thomspon book Film Art which I found too didactic and dispassionate to hold any interest.

I usually go the New York Film Festival but several friends like Rob, Doug, Darren and Girish go to TIFF. The enormous selection at TIFF is definitely preferable, but I like the pacing of NYFF (especially when I can also take in companion programs like Views from the Avant-Garde and the planned Shochiku studio retrospective this year) and I've found that I can usually catch most of the other noteworthy films throughout the year in programs like Rendez-vous with French Cinema and Film Comment Selects, so I don't feel as though I'm missing anything. Personally, the big advantage for me is that I get to be home. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 03, 2005 1:51 PM | Permalink

Okay, a preliminary screening schedule has been posted (located below calendar). To be honest, I don't feel comfortable having that much information about my whereabouts published; I like being anonymous when I go to watch films. Anyway, we'll see how it goes...

Posted by: acquarello on Mar 03, 2005 9:27 PM | Permalink

Thank you for the screening schedule! And your recommendation of What is Cinema?.

Thanks again!

ps: [ Pointer to TIFF was very useful. Thank you! I was beginning to get wary of the SFIFF (which, personally speaking, seems to drifting towards the mainstream lately in quest for more audience) so i have been trying to aggregate a watch list based on eclectic sources. I accidentally discovered VIFF last year and was pleasantly surprised by some of their selections like Chain and Tony Takitani ]

Posted by: Mohit Sabharwal on Mar 04, 2005 2:58 PM | Permalink

Post a comment:

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)