Los Muertos (2004)

Dir. by Lisandro Alonso

I’ve been trying to catch up with the work of a few of the highly regarded directors who will have new films at TIFF this year, and this morning I watched Lisandro Alonso’s Los Muertos, which, at least on a first viewing, is one of the most exciting and important films I’ve seen in some time. I just regret that I hadn’t had a chance to see it before watching Alonso’s Fantasma at TIFF ’06. I was put off by what I felt was a misanthropic streak in that film, though after having spent 80 minutes with Vargas now, I wonder how different my experience of it would be.

I’m tempted to call Los Muertos “important” because it complicates a tendency of contemporary art cinema. So many of the films I like fall into particular formal habits: long takes, static cameras, expressionless faces, an avoidance of close-ups and reaction shots, little non-diegetic sound, and a curious attention to physical space (typically the natural world — trees, leaves, grass, bodies of water, etc.). It’s become a kind of formula, and critics and cinephiles who are drawn to these kinds of films are prone, I think, to be a bit too forgiving of their faults. Like, I remember watching Naomi Kawase’s The Mourning Forest last year and thinking, “Okay, this movie has everything I like in a film, so way does its stab at transcendence seem so totally calculated and false to me?”

What fascinates me about Los Muertos is that it explores the connection between form and content by taking all of the tropes of “transcendental cinema” and staining them, by narrative means, with dread and violence. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s answer (apocryphal, perhaps) when he was asked if he was the father of New Age music: “No, my music has evil in it.”