The Dead Man And Being Happy

The Dead Man And Being Happy

****1/2

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Javier Rebollo's wondrous Dead Man and Being Happy begins on a popular crowded square in Buenos Aires and the voice over tells us this, before it describes the man, Santos (José Sacristán). We see him wearing his pyjamas under a coat on a public bench about to meet a pretty nurse (Valeria Alonso), also hiding her uniform under a covering jacket, to bring the man morphine.

Rule number one for voice over: Don't tell what you are already showing. Breaking the rule is an excellent way to put the audience on high alert.

Copy picture

The doubling of images and narration is unsettling, a bit like, as Freud described in a footnote to the Uncanny, there is nothing more disturbing than meeting yourself. In this case, Rebollo's film confronts your eyes with your ears. Once we get used to what we see, the narration changes as well, and before we know it, we are on a journey with Santos, 75, a hired killer, who possibly never killed anyone.

True to Roland Barthes, he is a myth, who in his pyjamas has more dignity than many a businessman in a suit, with three tumors standing in for three fairies, that coax him through a rapidly changing Argentina. Perhaps we are following a ghost or an angel, whose job it is to archive places that are about to disappear and might otherwise be lost.

The very last sentence of Luis Buñuel's autobiography My Last Breath could also describe one of the longings of this film. Despite his "horror of the press," Buñuel would have loved to, after his death, every ten years or so, get up from his grave and buy some newspapers: "Ghostly pale, sliding silently along the walls, my papers under my arm, I'd return to the cemetery and read about all the disasters in the world before falling back to sleep, safe and secure in my tomb."

Santos, and his travel companion Érika (Roxana Blanco) encounter a German mountain colony, with many men of a certain old age, a beach between paradise and apocalypse, and end up at Érika's family estate, the last place she wanted to visit to come upon a very special ghost dog, who haunts more than one film at this year's New York Film Festival.

When Érika and Santos are stopped on the road by a policeman, the mood oscillates between Psycho and screwball comedy. Santos, who is from Spain and in this scene more than ever, resembles Walter Matthau, attempts an Argentine accent, very badly. Even if you don't understand Spanish, the voice over tells you what is going on, and in a bravura mix of gestures and language, a lacking driver's license, a statue of the Virgin Mary and the cassette tape of an Argentine comic, "Is that by Corona?" result in the expression "What a great country!" and moves the old Camborio car forward.

Rebollo, reinvents the Road Movie, just as Léos Carax does in Holy Motors, through the city of Paris. And, come to think of it, so does Abbas Kiarostami with Tokyo in his Like Someone In Love, to complete the Holy Trinity of Road Movie reshapings at the 50th New York Film Festival. You decide which one is the Holy Ghost!

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2012
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An ageing hitman goes on a darkly comic journey to nowhere.
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Director: Javier Rebollo

Writer: Lola Mayo, Javier Rebollo, Salvador Roselli

Starring: José Sacristán, Valeria Alonso, Vicky Peña, Fermí Reixach, Roxana Blanco, Jorge Jellinek, Lisa Caligaris, Carlos Lecuona

Year: 2012

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Spain, France, Argentina


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