Los Muertos

Los Muertos


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

It's difficult to know where I stand with this film, in particular some of it's unbearably slow rhythms. I speak not from an admiration of the generic Hollywood thrill machines, but from our reaction throughout the film. There is much to recommend, however.

Primarily, this is a voyage up river to visit and deliver a letter to one of Argentino Vargas's prison friends and, eventually, a further journey to his daughter. It opens with Vargas in prison, preparing for release. His actions are straightforward, including visiting shops for provisions, clothes and, jarringly, to the local prostitute and slaughtering animals - what the BBFC will do with the one-take goat scene, I'll never know...

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The film's opening shot is mesmerising, a slow path through a luscious green forest, the camera going in and out of focus between leaves, branches and foliage. Then all of a sudden, we see a patch of flowing water and a murdered body in sharp focus. The spectator imparts no more influence throughout the film than the meanest ghost - a true and pure "fly on the wall" affair. We observe throughout with a stationary camera and all we end up doing is panning and tilting, while we remain in one spot. Why does director Lisandro Alonso use this visual construct throughout the film? It reminds the audience somewhat of Ozu's strange power of never using the camera's movement to impart any kind of unwanted storytelling. A straight up exclamation of - Here are these characters, focus on them and nothing else!

The central casting of Vargas is key to the film's success and source of it's ultimate unease. His face is weathered, beaten down by years, greyish hair and a pair of eyes that evoke hidden secrets and thoughts. There's a moderate menace here, that's not helped when we're reminded cognitively of the opening sequence of post-violence. We're never really comfortable with this character and that's why the film succeeds, since there's only one scene in the entire film where he is not present.

I have enough ammunition to destroy the film critically - accusations of off-kilter pacing, pretentiousness and undeveloped characters - and yet I admire it. Los Muertos has a certain cold beauty, full of startling magical imagery, and a final shot that is equal measures baffling and chilling.

Do I openly recommend it? No. But if you want something that's a little different, to visualise another civilisation through the lens of Alonso's camera and you have patience, then give it a try.

Reviewed on: 20 Aug 2004
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An ex-convict's journey up river in deepest Argentina.
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Director: Lisandro Alonso

Writer: Lisandro Alonso

Starring: Argentino Vargas

Year: 2004

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: Argentina

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