Dir: Lisandro Alonso
Cast: Argentino Vargas
A strange, strange and hypnotically beautiful film, which isn't, as it usually is, a euphemistic description of a poorly shot, slow-moving "art film". Los Muertos is the real deal, and its deft balance of startlingly beautiful natural imagery and creeping menace is masterful. Yes, it is slow moving, but that's the whole point - it's not your movie, after all. It seems as if the director is calling out all the viewers who want to be cultured and sophisticated, but secretly wish they were watching Norbit; which isn't to say that Los Muertos is a pretentious, alienating art film; it is anything but, and at its core, it touches the most base and primal emotions and actions of man. This is what Into the Wild should have been, if Sean Penn had any balls. If this all seems rather cryptic, that's because it's supposed to be. In the way of plot, Los Muertos has Vargas, recently released from a lengthy prison term for a vague, foggy memory of a brutal crime - hinted at in the prodigious, searingly beautiful, and terrifying opening sequence, which, thinking back now, is the film in a microcosm - and on a mission to reconnect with his daughter. And that's it. No twists, no explosions, no car chases, just a lazy trip up the winding river, and a few seemingly meaningless encounters with various people. If this sounds boring, skip it - you don't deserve it anyway. But if you can get beneath the surface (which is quite stunning), then you'll find a whole nest of subtlety teeming therein. Remember the opening scene in Blue Velvet? Well, this movie is the realization of that - everything calm and perfect on the surface, but a dark, unmentionable horror lurks just below; a rot, a decay; not a decay of anything corporeal, but of that most intangible of intangibles, the soul. And that, precisely, is what makes Los Muertos so haunting, so ambiguous, so menacing, so essential - it is a film that dares the viewer to declare that they are bored and to move on, leaving some scrap to be picked up in media res by a curious soul who will have their view slightly skewed throughout the journey of a life. One of the more terrifying - or gorgeous (I'm still not sure, and I'm not sure if there is an "answer") - and ambiguous endings in film I can remember. Stick around for the credits - that music is da bomb, and only serves to ratchet up the tension. This film is the closest adaptation to Conrad's Heart of Darkness that I can think of, and there is no indication that the former is based on, or influenced by, the latter. There are some familiar tropes in this one - the fallen angel, forgiveness, the need for redemption, and man's inborn desire to dominate, possess - none spelled out explicitly, but all certainly there. I could be reading this one completely wrong (which is highly likely, given the openness to interpretation that the director has built into the film), but I felt afraid. Pretty impressive, and the work of someone who I would consider a major new voice in Argentinian/world cinema.
ps: vegans, animal lovers, and anyone else with a similar character flaw take heed - there is an extremely graphic (i.e. real) goat butchering that may upset more delicate sensibilities.
pps: eff paragraphs