Tuesday, September 1, 2009

DVD of the Week: "Los Muertos" (Lisandro Alonso, 2004)

by James Hansen

Editors Note: Between traveling and other reviewing duties, our DVD of the Week series took the month of August off. Thankfully, its back now and will make its return on Tuesdays rather than Fridays, so as to not interfere with weekend film releases. Thanks for your patience!

In anticipation of his terrific new film Liverpool, which opens at Anthology Film Archives this weekend, our pick for this week is Lisandro Alonso’s 2004 film Los Muertos. This may be all you want to know according to Nathan Lee, who starts his review for the Village Voice saying, “See Los Muertos with virgin eyes; this cool-headed enigma is best approached cold, ignorant of everything but the title. "The Dead" is an ironic appellation for a movie so fiercely alive, though perfectly apt for what turns out to be a strange sort of horror film.” So, if you want to stop there and queue it on up, go for it. But I’ll continue anyways for those curious. (And certainly please read Nathan’s stellar review as well, if you wanna go into it “all the way” as he does and suggests is required in reviewing it.)

A slow, methodical, and extremely sharp work, Los Muertos may be some kind of cousin to Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful (yet much derided) new film The Limits of Control. Los Muertos tracks the journey of Vargas (played by nonprofessional actor Argentino Vargas), a man recently released from prison for the murder of his brothers. Closely following his trek down the Yacare River in a borrowed boat through the Argentinian jungle, Los Muertos lets the landscape absorb into its characters which help shape the underlying violence and existential quandary. Alonso’s direction to his nonprofessional lead actor? Don’t look into the camera and don’t make any facial expressions. Sound familiar? This Bressonian minimalism combined with the endlessly fascinating traits of a fiction/documentary hybrid provide Los Muertos with its casting glance into unseen places and spaces, all the while burying a deep emotion that is triggered within an engaged audience rather than displayed by the characters on screen.

This brief description should let you all know if Los Muertos is your cup of tea or not, although several unmentioned, more confrontational moments are likely to stir anyone – especially those affiliated with any form of animal rights group. All the same, even these brisk, stunning moments contribute to expanding the scope of the largely hidden world at work within Los Muertos. Or maybe the whole world is there all along. Glistening all around Vargas, and us, as the shimmers of light, fades to green, and non-chalant violence shows us everything we need to know about the nature of the places that surround us. Make no mistake – Los Muertos is a full blown display of an up and coming artist at work.

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